How do I love thee, this poem? Let me count the ways. 1. Because I’m a sucker for teacher praise poems. 2. Because as a child the only way I could cope with the horror of writing elementary school book reports (people! to reduce a book to a plot summary is to kill it dead!) was to make up imaginary books and then write fake book reports about them. 3. Because I too adore Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. 4. Because Nikki Giovanni is a lifelong badass and I love her. 5. Because censoring what a child reads and which books are allowed on shelves is a crime. 6. Because every book a child reads is a rung on a ladder leading up and up and up to a future they dream of making.
In Praise of a Teacher, by Nikki Giovanni
The reason Miss Delaney was my favorite teacher, not just my
favorite English teacher, is that she would let me read any book I
wanted and would allow me to report on it. I had the pleasure of
reading The Scapegoat as well as We the Living as well as Silver
Spoon (which was about a whole bunch of rich folk who were
unhappy), and Defender of the Damned, which was about
Clarence Darrow, which led me into Native Son because the real
case was defended by Darrow though in Native Son he got the
chair despite the fact that Darrow never lost a client to the chair
including Leopold and Loeb who killed Bobby Frank. Native Son
led me to Eight Men and all the rest of Richard Wright but I
preferred Langston Hughes at that time and Gwendolyn Brooks
and I did reports on both of them. I always loved English because
whatever human beings are, we are storytellers. It is our stories
that give a light to the future. When I went to college I became a
history major because history is such a wonderful story of who we
think we are; English is much more a story of who we really are.
It was, after all, Miss Delaney who introduced the class to My
candle burns at both ends; /It will not last the night; /But, ah, my
foes, and, oh, my friends— /It gives a lovely light. And I thought
YES. Poetry is the main line. English is the train.
Click here for Nikki Giovanni’s brief, funny, wonderful ‘biography.’
My podcast: Words by Winter.