NIKKI GIOVANNI, American poet, born; The civil rights and black power movements inspired her early poetry that was collected in Black Feeling, Black Talk (1967), Black Judgement (1968), and Re: Creation (1970). She has since written more than two dozen books including volumes of poetry, illustrated children’s books, and three collections of essays. Giovanni’s writing has been heavily inspired by African-American activists and artists. She has a tattoo with the words “Thug life” to honor Tupac Shakur, whom she admired. Her book Love Poems (1997) was written in memory of him, and she has stated that she would “rather be with the thugs than the people who are complaining about them.” She also tours nationwide and frequently speaks out against hate-motivated violence.

At a 1999 Martin Luther King Day event, she recalled the 1998 murders of James Byrd, Jr. And Matthew Shepard: “What’s the difference between dragging a black man behind a truck in Jasper, Texas, and beating a white boy to death in Wyoming because he’s Gay?”