A huge orderly crowd of nearly 500 people were crowded inside Busboys and Poets on Saturday night, while nearly 100 waited outside in the rain.
Most had been followers of Nikki Giovanni since “Black Feeling, Black Talk,” her 1987 first collection of poetry, and all wanted to hear drops of wisdom and excerpts from her latest collection, “A Good Cry: What We Learn from Tears and Laughter.”
“Here is what I am sure we all love about Nikki,” said author Kwame Alexander, a former student of Giovanni’s who introduced her at the event. “We always feel like she has her pulse on what is real, what’s authentic, what’s meaningful and what’s significant.”
To thunderous applause and a standing ovation, Giovanni came to the podium. Working through her emotions and tears, Giovanni admitted she was crying because she was shocked so many people came out to see her.
The award-winning author collected herself and gave the audience what they came to hear — spirited commentary sprinkled with laughter and a few expletives.
Giovanni began a reflective talk about the current climate of the nation. She referred to “her generation” that did a good job at breaking down the culture of segregation, stressed that today’s culture is still racist, just not segregated.
“I don’t think it is a crisis I am going through,” she said. “But I am having a hard time trying to understand, ‘what now?’ I think it is important, for we, as Black Americans, deal with the fact that we are wonderful people.”
Affirming her point, Giovanni humorously ran down a list of Americana that can be attributed to Blacks, including fried chicken, torn jeans and any music that is labeled “traditional” — a word she said is code for “Black.”
Then Giovanni turned to look out the large street-level windows and saw the rain-soaked onlookers listening through the restaurant’s exterior speakers. Throughout her stream-of consciousness talk, Giovanni often turned to the window to directly address to the crowd outside, whose presence moved Giovanni to tears again.
Admitting that she has always been excited by space exploration, Giovanni compared Blacks in space to the Middle Passage, speaking of how Blacks survived coming from something known to something unknown with love and sanity intact.
“If Black people don’t go into space, there won’t be anything in space that makes sense,” she said.
Giovanni said people are afraid to go into space for fear of being raped by aliens.
“We’ve already been raped by the aliens,” she mused. “But no matter what it was, we loved it.”
Giovanni also spoke of how White Americans have worked for the good through the examples of the care she received at a hospital in Appalachia following a stroke. She also talked about how White and Black women in Alabama worked together to elect Doug Jones in the recent Senate race.
“Those White women use to be 14 years old. They know what those 30-year-old men did to them,” Giovanni said of allegations of sexual misconduct against Jones’ Republican opponent Roy Moore. “So they came out and voted again Roy Moore.”
In wrapping up the event, Giovanni gave the crowd her daily outlook on life: “I wake up every morning just glad to be Black, because I know that what we have given to the world is great and what we will continue to give will be great.”