20 pages 40 minutes read

Nikki Giovanni

Knoxville, Tennessee

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1968

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Symbols & Motifs


The most apparent symbol in “Knoxville, Tennessee” is food. Giovanni opens the poem with her declaration “I always like / summer best / you can eat […]” (Lines 1-3). There are several likely reasons why Giovanni opens the list of things she likes best about summer with several food items. Food symbolizes contentment, love, and fulfillment. People must have food in order to survive. As earlier noted, children are often thinking about food, and as it is presumed that the speaker is reflecting on a younger version of herself, it is a logical choice to immediately launch into a list of foods enjoyed in the summer.

Because food is regularly connoted to love and fulfillment, the speaker’s discussion of food “from daddy’s garden” (Line 4) symbolizes the bond between parent and child. The speaker’s father grows their own produce—an act that takes time and care, but which likely means that he wants to support his family. The speaker understands this as an act of love.


It is commonly understood that summer is the warmest season of the year, so it is not surprising when Giovanni’s speaker mentions, near the close of the poem, that one of the reasons she likes summer best is because she can “[…] be warm / all the time” (Lines 21-22).