Nikki Giovanni, poet, activist, mother, and professor, is a seven-time NAACP Image Award winner and the first recipient of the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award, and holds the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry, among many other honors. The author of twenty-eight books and a Grammy nominee for The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection, she is the University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.
From the time I could hold a pencil, I loved to draw. My mother was a single parent who worked full time, and my brothers were much older than I was. It seemed like I spent a lot of time alone. Drawing and, later, writing kept me company.
I was very shy. My mother was always introducing me to little girls who lived in our apartment building in Queens, New York. I became good friends with one girl named Roberta, whose mother was an artist. When they moved to a house a few blocks away, Roberta's mother set up a studio in the attic and gave art lessons. I went with them to sketch in the park. We took the subway into Manhattan to visit museums. I knew I wanted to be an artist.
In the sixth grade I read The Diary of Anne Frank and decided to keep a journal. I keep one to this day. In the seventh grade I started writing short stories. I had a wonderful English teacher, Miss Rothenberg, who encouraged me to write. My first published story appeared in the junior high school literary magazine.
While I dreamed of going to art school, my mother steered me to a liberal arts college, Mount Holyoke. Being a studio art major there was a bit outside the mainstream and, later, having a Mount Holyoke degree didn't open any doors when I began searching for work as an illustrator. But I did get a tremendous education, which serves me well every day of my life.
My early illustration jobs were for magazines, eventually for The New Yorker. I got my first book illustrating job (a cookbook) when I was pregnant with my first child. Other books followed, and two more children. It was only after my third baby was born that an illustrator friend arranged for me to meet Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow. He had to really push me to make the appointment because I was pretty much consumed with motherhood (and exhausted!) The Line Up Book was my first picture book. My son Sam was obsessed with lining up objects all over our house, and that had been my inspiration.
The stories I write usually happen that way. My children say or do something that sticks in my mind. Or I remember something from my own childhood. I mull it over and over and expand it and come up with a story. The initial idea is usually the easy part, but giving it shape, rhythm, and a climax is much more difficult. Painting the pictures is the most fun of all.
There is no other job I would want. Every day when I sit down to work in my studio--which is a bedroom in my house--I feel very lucky and very happy.