Study Guide

A Poem for My Librarian, Mrs. Long Race

By Nikki Giovanni

Race

Nikki Giovanni has been one of the strongest, clearest voices to talk about the black experience in America, so it will come as no surprise that her earliest memories would include issues of race and perseverance in the face of discrimination. Although the focus of "A Poem for My Librarian, Mrs. Long" rests on her positive memories of life in Knoxville (where her grandparents lived), Giovanni includes the whole experience of the times. She presents an atmosphere of discrimination fueled by memories of segregation—something we see very clearly in Mrs. Long's interaction with the folks at the "big library." In the end, Giovanni's experience of Mrs. Long's care and bravery help her to blossom intellectually, to face the wide world with strength and hope.

Questions About Race

  1. How does race enter into this poem dedicated to Mrs. Long?
  2. Why does Mrs. Long have to go to the "big library uptown" to borrow the books that Giovanni wants?
  3. What happens to Mrs. Long when she asks for the books at the big library? How does Giovanni know this?
  4. In what ways does Mrs. Long's bravery influence Giovanni? How can you tell?

Chew on This

Although Giovanni speaks of the difficulties of segregation and discrimination, her experience with Mrs. Long and the books from the library leave her with a positive outlook for the future.

Giovanni speaks of "the main black corridor" and "our carnegie library" to emphasize the pride of community and her sense of belonging in her grandparents' neighborhood.