I never really thought about "Black literature" as I was growing up and that's probably because I didn't read much Black literature. Images of Black Americans came by stories told to me by white writers, such as Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Searching back in my mind for the first piece of writing by a Black American, I'm not sure I can pull the exact one forth. Maybe it wasn't until The Color Purple that I started to imagine a type of literature other than the mostly British white folks I'd been reading, my penchant for Gothic, Victorian, enormously long novels about poor people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Or silly, rich people having a lot of fun in big blowzy summer English gardens.
Or maybe Richard Wright and his Native Son was the first, a novel that scared me, but probably for all the wrong reasons, so fixated was I on the murder. The point here is that I didn't really "get" what I was reading as much as read what I was told to.
As a college student, my reading habits spread, and I was introduced to not only Black American writing but African writing, taking a class on south African writers. In graduate school, I read Ellison and all of Morrison and all of Baldwin and more Walker. But as an English Literature major, it was hard to move around much, trapped as I was in a small island.
It wasn't until I began to teach that I was able to really read around, and as a very young, untried teacher, I came across this poem when teaching women's literature and then, later, using it when I began teaching mythology, loving the idea of the all creating goddess. Nikki Giovanni's poem Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why) was just so much fun for the young women in my class to read. Even though we were reading the poem almost 20 years after it was published, it felt good to hear these big, bold words coming from a female speaker, a speaker who had done everything and was everything and created everything. She was all that, even before being all that was all that.
Giovanni's words reached into my students' burgeoning senses of self, and mine, too, a not-yet-thirty-year-old woman trying to get her footing in a tenured teaching job. We read the poem out loud, discussed it, and then I asked them to write their own ego tripping poems, exaggerating and amplifying and stating how they themselves were all that.
As I remember, the poems were--if not well constructed--full of feeling and passion and pride.
How much more difficult, of course, for a Black woman to put herself out there in a culture that was just coming to grips with equal rights. How bold and strong and true. How fun, too. How freeing. How flat out amazing.
Here's the poem.
Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)
I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
that only glows every one hundred years falls
into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad
I sat on the throne
drinking nectar with allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to europe
to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
the tears from my birth pains
created the nile
I am a beautiful woman
I gazed on the forest and burned
out the sahara desert
with a packet of goat's meat
and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift
so swift you can't catch me
For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son hannibal an elephant
He gave me rome for mother's day
My strength flows ever on
My son noah built new/ark and
I stood proudly at the helm
as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
men intone my loving name
All praises All praises
I am the one who would save
I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
the filings from my fingernails are
On a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off
the earth as I went
The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
across three continents
I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission
I mean...I...can fly
like a bird in the sky...
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org