Nikki Giovanni. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Nikki Giovanni has retired after 35 years as a professor in the Department of English at Virignia Tech.

“In all fairness, I’m getting old,” Giovanni, 79, said in a statement.

Giovanni is known around the world for her poetry, essays, and written work that delve into social issues, including race and gender.

Among her many accomplishments, she has published 11 illustrated children’s books, received 30 honorary degrees and seven NAACP Image Awards, and has been a finalist for a Grammy and for the National Book Award. Oprah Winfrey has named her one of 25 living legends. Giovanni is a sought-after speaker and public voice, most recently appearing on CNN’s “United Shades of America.” Her newest children’s book, “A Library,”  is set to debut this fall at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. It recounts her weekly visits as a child to a segregated library near her home.

In Blacksburg, she has used her written and spoken work to mark significant events in Virginia Tech history, creating poems for the April 16, 2007 mass shooting and for the Class of 2020’s commencement ceremony, which occurred at the height of the pandemic.

Nikki Giovanni has been an important and deeply valued presence on our campus, giving voice to the spirit of Virginia Tech and helping us celebrate, mourn, learn, heal, and be better,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said in a statement. “Her words will continue to inspire us and touch readers around the world, and while we will miss her regular presence on campus, she will always be a beloved member of our university community.”

Giovanni landed at Virginia Tech in 1987 after receiving an invitation from Ginney Fowler, a faculty member in the Department of English who recently retired. Fowler recruited Giovanni after hearing her speak at a conference.

Giovanni said she had never heard of Virginia Tech. But she accepted the offer made over the phone and moved her mother and her son with her to the New River Valley from Ohio.

Giovanni was hired as part of the Commonwealth Visiting Professor program, which sought to bring artists and scholars from minority groups to the university. By then, Giovanni had established her name as part of the national Black Arts Movement while making a living speaking and reading her work. Some nicknamed her the “Princess of Black Poetry,” Fowler said in a statement.