Legendary Poet Nikki Giovanni Uses Hip-Hop for Child Literacy

Award-winning poet and educator Nikki Giovanni has released an innovative anthology entitled Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat, aimed at introducing children to poetry, and nurturing a love of reading.

Already #3 on the New York Times bestseller list, the anthology combines pictures, words, and audio elements of poet performances to create a unique, interactive experience for young readers.

Giovanni, who has championed the African and African-American experience throughout her career, explained to AllHipHop.com that the project began as a way to take focus away from today’s negative Hip-Hop elements, and illuminate the culture’s sociological foundation.

“Though Hip-Hop has notorious elements these days, the art form, like poetry, began as part of the human experience, and has been used as a positive cultural force,” Giovanni detailed. “Originating with the African-American community, Hip-Hop was born using creativity to improve dismal circumstances.”

The collection displays 51 selections from 42 poets and performers, including A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Stetsasonic, SugarHill Gang, Langston Hughes, and Gwendolyn Brooks.

By including Hip-Hop predecessors in poets like Hughes and Brooks, Nikki Giovanni is focusing on showing youth how their art form is the natural heir of the African/African-American tradition.

“When slaves were prevented from learning to read and write, they used coded drumbeats to communicate ideas, culture, and family legacy,” she explained. “Gospel preachers refined the 'call and response' to teach God’s word."

Blues musicians turned the repeated cadence into the 20th century’s most influential music form.

And finally, inner city youth, the first Hip-Hop artists, combined the elements to form one of the most influential urban cultures in American history.”

Although only in its first month of release, the anthology has garnered considerable praise from academics and is being utilized by teachers, librarians, and parents across the country.

Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat is available now in hardcover at all major book outlets.