Longtime professor, poet who inspired Virginia Tech community retires

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 16: Nikki Giovanni speaks the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial dedication on the Main Stage at West Potomac Park on October 16, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)
'It's time to let some of the young people come in.' Virginia Tech professor on her retirement

Virginia Tech professor and poet Nikki Giovanni has retired after 35 years teaching in the English department.

Giovanni, 79, cited her age as the reason for her retirement on Thursday.

“In all fairness, I’m getting old,” she told campus publication VTx.

Giovanni told WTOP that it’s time to let some of the younger people come in and bring what they have to offer in the classroom and to the students. Although she is not going to be in the classroom anymore, she still plans to keep a busy schedule in her retirement.

“There’s some stories that I want to write and some things I want to do,” Giovanni said. One of these is a book that’s debuting at the Library of Congress in September titled, “A Library.”

She’s also planning to write a collection of short stories about growing up and childhood.

An accomplished and award-winning author, Giovanni came into the national spotlight in 2007 after one of the deadliest school shootings in the U.S., which killed 32 people and wounded several others.

The following day, she gave a convocation address addressing the shooting, ending with the lines, “We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.”

Giovanni is known for her poetry, essays and other writing that focus on social issues, including race and gender. She has received awards from the NAACP, been a finalist for a Grammy and the National Book Award.

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said in a statement that Giovanni’s words will “continue to inspire us and touch readers around the world, and while we will miss her regular presence on campus, she will always be a beloved member of our university community.”

One of Giovanni’s former students was best-selling author Kwame Alexander, who called Giovanni his “literary mother,” VTx reported. Giovanni said it has been a pleasure to watch her former student and friend’s career.

“Teaching is sort of a foundation,” she said. “The kids bring a lot of information to me and a lot of different attitudes and that’s what I enjoy. And every day you go to class and there’s going to be something different going on,” adding that students also teach her.

And while she will miss gong to school, Giovanni said that retiring from teaching means she will now have time.

“Writers need time,” she said, adding that she has been a night writer and that her son knew that it was 11 p.m. and she was home when he heard the tapping of the typewriter keys.

Giovanni graduated from Fisk University in 1967 with a degree in history. Before joining Virginia Tech in 1987 as a visiting professor, she had teaching jobs at the College of Mount Saint Joseph and Ohio State University.

WTOP’s Anna-Lyse Gayle contributed to this report. 

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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