Nikki Giovanni delivers Cheuse's Busboys and Poets Lecture

Nikki Giovanni delivers Cheuse's Busboys and Poets Lecture

The second Cheuse Center’s Busboys and Poets Lecture was delivered by beloved poet Nikki Giovanni. 

The audience of 350 people came from across the region and as far as southern Virginia, the Chesapeake, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Telling us about Nikki's Way, she urged us to live on our own terms, with fearless confidence, with values of faith, community and non-violence, love and celebration. To listen, to trust, so we can reiterate our abiding commitment to what’s good, invigorating ourselves with resilience, as we learn from each other’s histories. 

Busboys and Poets and the Cheuse Center created this lecture of ideas to deepen our commitment to public life through the work of a public intellectual who can transform and sustain us. We plan the lecture through a series of conversations between Busboys founder Andy Shallal, and the Cheuse Center’s Board Chair, Bill Miller, both of whom sponsor this lecture in equal part. Andy’s vision has informed the growth of his restaurant chain named after Langston Hughes into cultural community spaces filled with food, literature, joy and justice. (Jimmy Baldwin would approve!) 

This year, we also have our Baldwin100’s 24 individual hosts and 14 organizations, led by the Cheuse Center. Our co-hosts at the Sherwood Center are the City of Fairfax, Fairfax County Public Library, and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and thank you in particular to Megan Dubois, Christine Vincent, and Jennifer Disano. To that we add Maryland Humanities, Reston Community Center, Mason Exhibitions, Mason Libraries, the Center for Visual and Performing arts, and the Department of African and African American Studies. The indie bookstore from Busboys is our bookseller, and a big shout out to Lori Barrientos Sanchez, and Nathan Bernstein, who sold out that huge collection of books and managed the signing line. Nikki loves that part of the evening and you made it very special by staying. Read more about our hosts and curatorial model here.

Fairfax is the home to the Cheuse Center at George Mason University. Mason students speak 80 languages and it is among the top ten most diverse and innovative public universities in the country.

At the Cheuse Center we bring international writers to our region, we send students abroad on travel fellowships, and we serve our community by curating dozens of free public programs a year. We find common purpose as we build civic life - stepping into community, sharing human experience through a vibrant public life, that involves writers and ideas. By supporting our events, you create an inter-generational chain with the youth of today, students who also make up the audience.
 

Baldwin said: 

To tell the truth, one sees it (the United States) better from a distance and you can make comparisons from another place, from another country, which you aren’t able to make in America because there is nothing to compare America to.
 

Giovanni holds up the Penguin catalogue of new editions of 

James Baldwin's work. 

 

This was also our namesake, Alan Cheuse’s aspiration. The son of a Jewish Ukrainian refugee, he wanted students to design a life as Baldwin did, and visit other cultures.  Alan Cheuse said: 

Read as much as you can, write as much as you can, love as much as you can.

 

Nikki Giovanni reiterated to a sixteen-year-old poet, who asked her what advice she would give her, “Read!” To that Alan Cheuse, who was a teacher at George Mason for thirty years, and the voice of books on National Public Radio, would add, “travel.” 

The Baldwin100 is an open-source creative project, that you can replicate and share; through our online resources, you can form your own book clubs, watch movies, and spread LOVE. A collaborative arts, scholarship and cultural project encompassing a year-long series of initiatives designed to convene a wider Washington area audience to engage deeply with James Baldwin’s work. By celebrating Why Baldwin Matters, the Alan Cheuse International Writers Center is in a unique position to highlight a global Baldwin, whose impact on American intellectual and cultural life holds promise for a just world. The final outcomes of the initiative are: connecting the individual to their role to progress America towards a more just society. Sign up for our newsletter, as we are constantly adding events across the region. 

James Baldwin also said:

 
Love has never been a popular movement. And no one's ever wanted, really, to be free. The world is held together, really it is held together, by the love and the passion of a very few people. Otherwise, of course, you can despair. Walk down the street of any city, any afternoon, and look around you. What you've got to remember is what you're looking at is also you. Everyone you're looking at is also you.


There is one person who has always been part of this movement. In 1971 James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni taped a two-hour “dialogue” for a public TV show called Soul! At forty-seven years old, Baldwin was a legend for 'The Fire Next Time' and countless other essays, novels, and criticism. Giovanni, then twenty-eight, was a luminary of the Black Arts Movement as the author of the 1968 poetry collection 'Black Feeling, Black Talk.' Their conversation was subsequently published in book form as 'A Dialogue.' The conversation is available in two parts: Part 1, here; and Part 2, here.

Nikki Giovanni was anointed it seemed, in the dialogue and friendship she shared with James Baldwin, by Jimmy himself. But he was also listening to her, to the future. And by supporting our events, we believe you too are part of this movement.

Here is an excerpt from Giovanni’s final poem from her book A Good Cry, from ‘The Museum (at Last)’:

Feasting on the beautiful food

And drink calling

Out to each other those

Who had survived

Smiling with each other

Those who had come

These 50 Years

Embracing each other not 

On the loss of Martin

Or Rosa

Or Thurgood

But in the standing embrace 

That all people are created Equal

And today we felt their singing

And dancing and drinking with us

Because today we are

For one 

Brief moment

Free

 

-Leeya Mehta, April 24, 2024, Washington D.C.

 

Photo credit: Kate Hall, Aster Equine Photography or @asterequine and #Baldwin100 @CheuseCenter