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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
   the sphinx

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

  jesus

  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

  semi-precious jewels

  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...

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hey!

Jessica, I heard this piece was one of Huntington's choices for best blog on this week's theme -- and I see why! Congrats! Here's hoping the book you won will stand up to the poetry that grabbed you early in your teaching career . . . : )

Peace.

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I'm honored with this

I'm honored with this prize!  So wonderful.  I've read your work, Evie, and this book will come with me to work to live in my office!

Best,

J

Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com