Topeka, Kan. – Washburn University invites the public to join the Washburn community for an evening with world-renowned poet Nikki Giovanni 6 – 8 p.m. March 7 in White Concert Hall on the Washburn University campus. The event is free but those wishing to attend must register at by March 6 at 12 p.m. Refreshments will be served.

“In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the ‘Brown v. Board’ decision, our WUmester topic this spring examines community and belonging,” said Dr. Kelly Erby, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Washburn University. “Throughout her career, world-renowned writer and educator Nikki Giovanni has used poetry as a tool for social change and building community. Her work challenges us to embrace diversity and work toward a more equitable future for all. I can’t think of a better WUmester keynote speaker.” 

The Washburn University Office of Academic Affairs, the Washburn University Office of Student Involvement and Development, the Washburn Campus Activities Board and the Washburn Student Government Association are sponsoring this event. This is a WUmester 2024 event. 

About Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni is one of this country’s most widely read poets and one of America’s most renowned poets world-wide. Her poem, “Knoxville, Tennessee,” is arguably the single literary work most often associated with that city. 

Giovanni was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni Jr. in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1943, but her parents moved to the all-black Cincinnati suburb of Lincoln Heights when she was an infant. She and her sisters spent the summers with their grandparents in Knoxville, and she returned there for her high school years. She enrolled as an early entrant at Fisk University, where her grandfather had graduated, but was “released” in February 1961, because her attitude was deemed inappropriate for a “Fisk woman.” She then returned home and took classes at the University of Cincinnati until she returned to Fisk in 1964. At Fisk, she reinstituted the school’s chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), edited the literary magazine and graduated magna cum laude in history in 1967. Returning to Cincinnati, she directed the city’s first Black Arts Festival before enrolling briefly in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work. Recognizing that she was not meant to be a social worker, she entered Columbia University’s MFA program. In 1968 she self-published her first poetry book, a 19-page staple-bound volume entitled, "Black Feeling Black Talk," which sold some 2,000 copies in its first few months. This allowed Giovanni to self-publish her second book of poetry, "Black Judgement." William Morrow & Company approached her about publishing her first two volumes together in one book and "Black Feeling Black Talk/Black Judgement" was published in 1970.

During the late 60s and early 70s, Giovanni lived in New York and, after giving birth to her only child, Thomas, began earning an income through her lectures and poetry readings. Her frequent appearances on the Black entertainment show "SOUL!!," along with her extensive lecture tours, made her one of the most popular and recognizable poets of the Black Arts Movement. In 1971, "Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement on My First Twenty-Five Years of Being a Black Poet" was a finalist for the National Book Award. In that same year she published her first children’s book, "Spin a Soft Black Song," and released the album "Truth Is On Its Way," on which she read her poetry with and in juxtaposition to the New York Community Choir. Although she made no money from it, "Truth" was an enormous success, selling some 100,000 copies in the first six months of its release.

In 1978, Giovanni’s father suffered a stroke, and she and her son returned to Cincinnati to take care of her parents, and she did brief teaching stints at Ohio State University and the College of Mount St. Joseph on the Ohio. In 1987 Nikki Giovanni began teaching at Virginia Tech, where she was named, in 1999, a University Distinguished Professor. Since she has been at Virginia Tech, she has published two collections of essays, several illustrated children’s books (including the award-winning "Rosa") and 10 volumes of poetry for adults. In 2005, both her mother and her sister died of lung cancer, for which Giovanni herself had undergone successful surgery some 10 years earlier. The loss of her mother was as profound a blow as she had ever experienced.

Giovanni has received numerous awards during her career, including seven Image Awards from the NAACP, more than two-dozen honorary degrees, the first Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award, the Langston Hughes Medal for Poetry and the Carl Sandburg Literary Award. Additionally, Oprah Winfrey recognized her in 2005 as one of 25 “Living Legends.” She continues to teach, write and publish books, the most recent of which is "A Good Cry." Her newest collection, "Make Me Rain," was released in October of 2020.


WUmester is intended to foster a university-wide conversation on a topic related to social justice that will change each spring semester. The goal of the program is to engage the entire Washburn community in a cross-disciplinary learning experience on timely subjects and help students see the connections between the subjects they study in the classroom and real-world debates and problems.

In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the landmark 1954 United States Supreme Court decision "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka," WUmester 2024 will examine community and belonging from the perspectives of academic disciplines across campus and through a variety of co-curricular programming. It will consider how community and belonging contribute to our safety, wellbeing and, ultimately, happiness and empowerment.

You can find out about more WUmester 2024 events by visiting

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For further information, contact:
Joy Bailes
Director of Internal Communications and Brand Management
Telephone: (785) 670-2153
Cell: (785) 230-1648
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