20 pages 40 minutes read

Nikki Giovanni

Knoxville, Tennessee

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1968

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Related Poems

"Dreams" by Nikki Giovanni (1968)

"Dreams,” another poem featured in Black Feeling, Black Talk/Black Judgment, provides an interesting counterpoint to the themes addressed in “Knoxville, Tennessee.” Rather than telling the tale of a little girl embraced by her community, the poem deals with the exclusion of Black people from mainstream culture. Here, the speaker aspires in her childhood to be a backup singer for Ray Charles: a "raelet." But she comes to learn that "black people aren't / suppose [sic] to dream" (Lines 3-4). As she matures and becomes sensible, she abandons her desire to sing and instead becomes the thing or person that someone sings about: a muse, a “sweet inspiration” (Line 19). Ultimately, as an act of rebellion or defiance against the imposition that Black people aren't supposed to dream, the speaker becomes that which people dream about.

"History as Process" by Amiri Baraka (1964)

Another towering figure in the Black Arts Movement, Amira Baraka's “History as Process” addresses some of the same themes as Giovanni's “Knoxville, Tennessee.” Baraka’s text, however, is more dependent on the formal precedents of Modernist literary forebears, such as Louis Zukofsky and Ezra Pound. Like Giovanni's poem, Baraka’s work describes the need to realize and understand an authentically Black community—a visionary utopia between the merely "adequate thighs of all humanity" (Line 16).