Friday, April 29, 2011

A Night of Storytelling and Poetry

Last night, I had the pleasure of listening to distinguished professor of English and poetry, Nikki Giovanni, talk about her life, her family, Virginia Tech, the importance of the arts in young peoples' lives and what it means to be a citizen.

Giovanni talked about loss as only a daughter who has lost a mother can. She told a moving story about losing her mother, her older sister and a beloved aunt in six months. When her sister was diagnosed with metastasized lung cancer, her mother fell. Giovanni told of getting a call when she was in Arizona asking her to return to Roanoke immediately, because her mother "was dying." She spoke with her sister and a doctor, both who told her the same thing: Her mother was dying. Giovanni fired the doctor, called another one she trusted, and flew all night to get home. The new doctor greeted her, gave her an update on her mother's condition and said her mother "was dying."

Giovanni realized her mother couldn't bear the thought of burying her daughter and decided to die. And she did. Giovanni talked about wanting to take some time off to recover, but wondered how and when she would take time on. She didn't stop writing or teaching. Her emotion over her mother's passing in 2005 felt as fresh as if it happened yesterday. She reminded us through her tears that a woman rarely if ever gets over the loss of a mother.

On the lighter side, Giovanni talked about getting her way at Virginia Tech when she wanted to take 56 students to a poetry reading. She convinced the president to give her a bus. She still has use of the bus and takes her students to other poetry readings to emphasize that they should never be far from art in their lives.

On a note that didn't go over well with the conservative crowd, Giovanni said we Americans don't pay enough taxes. Her activist message was we are all members of a community and should be taking care of each other. The way to do that is to pay more in taxes. Most of the rich cats in the audience didn't agree. This not-rich cat did.

What did I learn from last night's readings? Let your emotions show. Don't be afraid to be happy or sad. Grieve and move on, but don't forget. Look around us. Others need our help. Pay your share and help. You can get your way if you make your case well. It helps to be an alpha female, which Giovanni is.

She left everyone in the audience with plenty to think about.

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