Study Guide

A Poem for My Librarian, Mrs. Long Education

By Nikki Giovanni

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Whenever we hear the term "education," we usually think of something institutional, formal, and mainstream. But Giovanni's "A Poem for My Librarian, Mrs. Long" shows us that other experiences contribute to our education, or to becoming who we are meant to be. Sometimes, those moments come to us from our families: hanging out on the porch (or stoop or street corner) with our neighbors, learning how to be social and fill up spare time. Or it could be a moment of self-discovery, when we learn to love certain kinds of music or books. For Giovanni, the love of learning and the impulse to explore new ideas took root in moments like these and were nurtured by the significant people in her life. Mrs. Long and her library, while the focus of the work, represent a single thread in the web of learning that surrounded the emerging poet.

Questions About Education

  1. Of the many memories Giovanni places in the poem, which do you think are the strongest, or most significant? Why?
  2. Giovanni admires Mrs. Long for her care and attention, and generally recalls positive things about her early education outside of school. Are there any negative memories? How do they affect her outlook in the poem?
  3. Lines 40-42 seem to be a bit out of place in the poem. Or do they? Why do you think Giovanni included them, and at that exact moment in the poem?
  4. How does the image of the "wardrobe" in line 46 work? To what does it refer?

Chew on This

Giovanni includes descriptions of life and the neighborhood in her poem to show that learning can only take place in a safe and secure environment.

The image of the wardrobe in line 46 reminds us that knowledge is exhilarating, but that there are dangers that come with knowing more about the world.

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