Nikki Giovanni, University Distinguished Professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, received the university's 2009 Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence.

Established by the university’s Commission on Outreach and International Affairs, with support from the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the Alumni Awards for Outreach Excellence reward Virginia Tech faculty members who as individuals or team members have extended the university's outreach mission throughout the commonwealth, the nation, and the world. Awardees are nominated by their peers, receive a $2,000 prize, and are inducted into the university’s Academy of Outreach Excellence.

Giovanni is the author of nearly 40 books, including The Collected Poetry, which won an American Book Award in 2008. She is also one of Virginia Tech’s most visible professors, due not just to her writing, but to her social activism and the time she spends sharing her love of writing with others.

Risha Mullins, an English teacher from Kentucky, recalls the exclusive poetry workshop that Giovanni conducted for her pupils. “She surprised my students because she wasn’t intimidating or pompous like they expected authors would be. … Her words to them – ‘Just write; it doesn’t matter if anyone else likes it’ – changed them.”

Giovanni embodies outreach because she does not only inspire people, she actively urges them to get involved themselves, says Carolyn Rude, professor and chair of the Department of English at Virginia Tech. Rude calls Giovanni “the best sort of leader – one who leads so others may join. She does not create followings, but fellowships.”

Rude also says that “the Virginia Tech community has expanded though Nikki’s national presence as an ambassador.”

The long and diverse list of honors that Giovanni has received illustrates the broad impact she has made on the world. She has won the NAACP Image Award multiple times. Twenty-three universities or colleges have awarded her honorary degrees. In 2004, Giovanni was not only nominated for a Grammy for her audio work The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection, she had a new species of bat (Micronycteris giovanniae) named in her honor by scientist Robert Baker.

Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women, in Greensboro, N.C., says Giovanni “speaks searing truths, and she speaks them with a gentleness that softens the blow. She uses poetic words to incite and to inspire. And she travels far, wide, and with much energy to share those truths.”

Giovanni received a bachelor’s in history from Fisk University in 1967. She launched her literary career the following year with two books: Black Feeling, Black Talk and Black Judgment. Giovanni joined Virginia Tech’s faculty in 1987.