Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee into a family of mixed African American and Italian ancestry and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1960, Giovanni began her studies at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and graduated with honors in history. She received a bachelor of arts degree in 1967. She gave birth to Thomas Watson Giovanni, her only child, in 1969. She has been a professor of writing and literature at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University since 1987, and continues to tour nationwide. She is also fascinated by space and space travel.
Giovanni is a breast cancer survivor who contributed an introduction to the book Breaking the Silence : Inspirational Stories of Black Cancer Survivors.
She has written more than two dozen books, including volumes of poetry, illustrated children’s books, and three collections of essays. The civil rights and black power movements informed her early poetry, collected in Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968), Black Judgement (1968), and Re: Creation (1970). Giovanni then wrote poems for children throughout the next decade.
Those Who Ride the Night Winds (1983) acknowledged notable black figures. Giovanni collected her essays in the 1988 volume Sacred Cows...and Other Edibles. Her three most recent works are Love Poems, Blues: For All the Changes, and Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea; Poems and Not Quite Poems.
She also featured on the track Ego Trip By Nikki Giovanni on Blackalicious' 2000 album Nia.