Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical

Nikki Giovanni: "preacher to the saved"?

[Arlene Elder, “A MELUS Interview: Nikki Giovanni,” MELUS 9 (Winter 1982)L 61-75l reprinted in Conversations With Nikki Giovanni, ed. Virginia C. Fowler (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992), p. 125-6.]
Interviewer: Do you think it’s possible for writers to express their convictions strongly enough or imaginatively enough to change the mind of anybody?

Giovanni: I don’t think that writers ever changed the mind of anybody. I think we always preach to the saved. Someone from the Post asked me, how would I describe myself, and I said, “I’m a preacher to the saved.” And I don’t think that anybody’s mind has ever been changed. It has been enhanced by an already-meeting-of-the-minds. When the reader picks up the book and proceeds to begin a relationship, it will proceed based upon how that book and that reader are already in agreement. Because almost nobody really reads anything that they are totally . . . I mean, I couldn’t read a position paper about the Klu Klux Klan.

Interviewer: You mean, you, literally, could not get through it?

Giovanni: I wouldn’t even try. Why? Because I already know. To me it’s like reading—which I guess I shouldn’t say to you like this—, but it’s like reading anti-abortion literature. I’m totally in opposition to their position. Unless I can read a headline that says they being something new to the table, then no, I’m not going to do that, because I already know where they are, and what I’m going to do is look for a strengthening of my position, where I am. And everybody does that.

So people are just looking to strengthen their own position -- except when they’re reading something that brings something new to the argument that they hadn’t heard before? Though it saddens me, i will admit that people are usually concerned more with bulking up their own arguments than with better understanding the opposition’s arguments, but i would be deeply depressed if i truly agreed with her that people only read people they agree with (though i think i’ve made accusations like that in my more bitter moments).

Yes, once you know the opposition’s arguments you don’t really need to be reading them again and again, but you had to learn those arguments at some point, had to figure out your own stance at some point -- you weren’t born with political opinions, and granted we often inherit our beliefs from those who raised us, but surely any thinking person does thinking on hir own, doesn’t just blindly accept hir parents’ beliefs.

How are writers always preachers to the saved if dissenters read you when you’re saying something new?

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