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Knoxville's literary legacy, mapped out.

Mulvaney Street looked like a camel’s back with both humps bulging—up and down—and we lived in the down part. At the top of the left hill a lady made ice balls and would mix the flavors for you for just a nickel. Across the street from her was the Negro center, where the guys played indoor basketball and the little kids went for stories and nap time. (from 400 Mulvaney Street)

Nikki Giovanni, Poet
Knoxville, Tennessee by Nikki Giovanni
Yolanda Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni, Jr. was born in Knoxville at Knoxville General Hospital on June 7, 1943. Her family soon moved to Cincinnati, but Nikki returned to Knoxville every summer to visit her grandparents at 400 Mulvaney Street (now Hall of Fame Drive). In 1958, Nikki returned to Knoxville, living with her grandparents and attending Austin High School on Vine Avenue (now Vine Middle Magnet School). In 1960, she enrolled in Fisk University in Nashville. Four years later, her grandmother was forced to move from Mulvaney Street due to the city’s “urban renewal” plan. Many civic buildings and parking lots were placed where the thriving African American neighborhood was once centered. Nikki’s grandmother died in 1967, and the trip to Knoxville for the funeral and the immense sense of loss led to Nikki writing what would become her first book Black Feeling Black Talk, which contains her famous poem “Knoxville, Tennessee.” Giovanni pursued graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University before publishing Black Feeling Black Talk. After decades of much celebrated publishing and teaching stints at Rutgers University and Ohio State University, in 1987 she accepted a full professorship at Virginia Tech University. Giovanni remains at Virginia Tech, where she is a University Distinguished Professor.
Giovanni has received numerous awards and accolades during her celebrated career, including multiple NAACP Image Awards, the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters, the Rosa Parks Women of Courage Award, the Outstanding Woman of Tennessee Award, and over twenty honorary degrees from colleges and universities around the country.
Giovanni has written several collections of poetry, autobiographies, children’s books (including an illustrated book “Knoxville, Tennessee”), and nonfiction. Some of her notable publications are:
Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968)
Black Judgement (1969)
Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (1996)
Love Poems (1997)
Blues For All the Changes: New Poems (1999)
Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not-Quite Poems (2002)
The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998 (2003)
Acolytes (2007)
Bicycles: Love Poems (2009)
Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid (2013)
A Good Cry: What We Learn From Tears and Laughter (2017)
Mapping Knoxville’s literary legacy
Our map joins moments in literature with GPS coordinates. Image-rich descriptions of a place’s significance within specific works tie us to these authors in a new way as Knoxville’s literature is reawakened in the city that surrounds us.