Wild Card with Rachel Martin: NPR

Nikki Giovanni takes part in a Q&A after a screening of the documentary On the Road to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for FLC


hide caption

switch caption

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for FLC


Nikki Giovanni takes part in a Q&A after a screening of the documentary On the Road to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for FLC

A message from Wild Card host Rachel Martin:

There are so many words I could use to describe Nikki Giovanni: poet, revolutionary, queer icon, feminist, space enthusiast, mother and grandmother, legend. Giovanni is all of those things. But she’s also a woman who learned early on that she didn’t have to apologize to anyone for who she was—or what she wanted from her life.

She can write poems that look directly at all the pain and hate in the world, and she can write children's books about feeling safe and loved. She can also imagine what it will look like when humans settle on Mars and black women lead the way.

Nikki Giovanni just turned 81, and her first eight decades of life have been about as accomplished as anyone could hope for. She’s done it her way all the way. And she’s written it down so the rest of us can see beyond ourselves and whatever trouble we’re in.

Nikki Giovanni reads her poem “A Good Cry”.

YouTube

This Wild Card interview has been edited for length and clarity. Host Rachel Martin asks guests randomly selected questions from a deck of cards. Press play above to listen to the full podcast or read an excerpt below.

Question 1: As a child, were you obsessed with a particular cosmic question?

Nikki Giovanni: Yeah. I wanted to know why Mars was red. And my obsession was that there was a war on Mars and they developed atomic energy, so Mars burned itself up. And most of my life, lying in bed and looking out the window, I’ve seen Mars, so I talk about it a lot. And I’d like to go to Mars, because I think my sisters and I, as a black woman, can build a community.

Rachel Martin: When did Mars first come to mind? Do you remember?

Jan: I shared a bedroom with my big sister. She wanted the bed by the wall, I don’t know why. That gave me the bed by the window. And so I looked out the window and looked at the stars. And the stars haven’t changed. So you have to ask yourself, what are they telling us? What am I learning?

Martin: Did you feel safer when you looked up? You had a tough home life. You've talked and written a lot about that. Did that help you escape what was going on at home?

Jan: Well, my parents had what I would call, in nice words, a difficult marriage. And space let me know that this could not be the end. When you start looking up at the stars and you think about the other life forms, you think, “Well, there's something else. I can't stop now. There's something else.”

Question 2: Which emotion do you understand better than any other?

Jan: Patience. I am incredibly patient.

Martin: Where does that come from?

Jan: Well, I don't know. I'm the little sister of two. So you always look at your big sisters because they're always so great. They're prettier, they're smarter, everything. And you want to say, well, one day I'm going to grow up or something.

But I also have a great love for old people and old women. I have very few friends my age. I'm 81. Being 80 was a disaster. I mean, if anything could be wrong with me, anything could be wrong with me. And I thought, okay, I had lung cancer and I had breast cancer, and I realized I don't want to be in hell — because I don't think I'm going to heaven — but I also don't want to be in hell and have people say, “She fought cancer for 20 years.” I'm not fighting a disease. I'm learning to live with it. And I want the disease to live with me.

So every morning I wake up, cancer and I are in good shape. And I say, let's take a shower and get on with our day. And one day we won't do that anymore. And then that means I'm in transition. I'm going to be in a different place.

Martin: Yes. Are you afraid of anything?

Jan: Well, I'm very careful with ostriches.

Martin: Nikki, what are you talking about? Ostriches? Are you afraid of ostriches?

Jan: Well. Have you ever been on safari? They are mean. And that kick will kill you. Just ask a lion. If you put a lion against an ostrich, the lion would be gone.

Martin: That wasn't the direction I wanted to go. [laughs]

Jan: I am not afraid of lions because lions are intelligent creatures and unless you threaten them, they will not bother you. You have to be careful with ostriches. People need to know that.

Question 3: Do you think about the legacy you will leave behind?

Jan: No.

Martin: Wow. I am surprised by that answer.

Jan: Because it drags you into your life, and your life is not about your life, your life is about your duty. And so, no, I don't think about it.

Martin: Have you ever noticed that people are too concerned with preemptively analyzing their legacy?

Jan: Oh, I've seen a lot. I know a lot of famous people, and they'll say, “I wonder what my postage stamp would look like.” I'll be dead. So it doesn't matter. I'll just be glad when me and cancer wake up. And one day we won't do that anymore.

My friend Tony Morrison, whom I love very much, wrote in Sulawhen Sula is dying she says, “oh just wait till I tell Nell it doesn't hurt. Just wait till I tell Nell.”

Martin: Let me ask this question in a different way. I understand what you're saying, that you don't want to get stuck in your ego. But are there moments when you look back on your life and give yourself moments to be proud?

Jan: Oh, there are times when I feel proud because I’ve worked hard. And when I went to the opening of the African American Museum in DC, I forgot that we had given permission to use my poetry. And I turned a corner and there was a picture of me. And it brought tears to my eyes. And I turned around and said, “Look, Grandma, I did my duty.” And that still amazes me. It’s like she was there. I did my duty and that’s what matters to me.

Related Posts

LeVar Burton Talks His Changing Definition of Success on NPR's 'Wild Card' : NPR

Actor LeVar Burton found tremendous success early in his life. In a round of Wildcard Along with Rachel Martin, he says his definition of success has changed over time. AILSA…

NBA Signs 11-Year Media Rights Deal With Disney, NBC, Amazon : NPR

An NBA logo is seen on an official game ball before a game, Feb. 1, 2014, in New York. The NBA said Wednesday it will not accept Warner Bros. Discovery's…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You Missed

LeVar Burton Talks His Changing Definition of Success on NPR's 'Wild Card' : NPR

  • July 25, 2024
LeVar Burton Talks His Changing Definition of Success on NPR's 'Wild Card' : NPR

Doctors react to Biden's live address to nation, concerned about 'lack of emotion'

  • July 25, 2024
Doctors react to Biden's live address to nation, concerned about 'lack of emotion'

USWNT defender Tierna Davidson on 'difficult situation' created by Korbin Albert's anti-LGBTQ posts

  • July 25, 2024
USWNT defender Tierna Davidson on 'difficult situation' created by Korbin Albert's anti-LGBTQ posts

South Korea GDP, Wall Street Sell-Off

  • July 25, 2024
South Korea GDP, Wall Street Sell-Off

This Retirement Misstep Could Cost You More Than $100,000 in Savings. Here’s What You Need to Know.

  • July 25, 2024
This Retirement Misstep Could Cost You More Than $100,000 in Savings. Here’s What You Need to Know.

Nvidia's latest AI offering could spark a gold rush for custom models

  • July 25, 2024
Nvidia's latest AI offering could spark a gold rush for custom models

Scouting Report for U.S. National Team Opponents at the 2024 Olympics: What to Know About Zambia and Barbra Banda as the U.S. Begins Its Journey

  • July 25, 2024
Scouting Report for U.S. National Team Opponents at the 2024 Olympics: What to Know About Zambia and Barbra Banda as the U.S. Begins Its Journey

Netanyahu thanks US for support at 'crossroads in history', calls protesters 'useful idiots'

  • July 25, 2024
Netanyahu thanks US for support at 'crossroads in history', calls protesters 'useful idiots'

Researchers discover a faster, more energy-efficient way to produce an industrially important chemical

  • July 25, 2024
Researchers discover a faster, more energy-efficient way to produce an industrially important chemical

Xander Schauffele or Scottie Scheffler for PGA Tour Player of the Year?

  • July 25, 2024
Xander Schauffele or Scottie Scheffler for PGA Tour Player of the Year?

Biden tells US it's time to pass the torch to Harris

  • July 25, 2024
Biden tells US it's time to pass the torch to Harris