BLACKSBURG, Va., April 30, 2010 – In the midst of a billion dollar campaign, the development office at Virginia Tech has gathered donations of various sizes and descriptions over the years, but perhaps none so unique as the Fowler-Giovanni Fund.
Giovanni, internationally renowned poet and popular lecturer, is arguably the most public face of the university. Fowler, through her sustained achievement in the areas of research, program and curriculum development, education, advocacy, outreach, and mentoring, has impacted the department and university in various ways since 1977. Fowler is also responsible for recruiting Giovanni to Virginia Tech, a feat that she lightheartedly refers to as “her greatest accomplishment.” The Fowler-Giovanni gift has two prongs. First of all, it represents a legacy gift to the Campaign for Virginia Tech with an estimated value in excess of $800,000.
In addition, Giovanni’s literary reputation will be forever tied to Virginia Tech with a bequest of her intellectual property. Essentially, permission for her copyrighted material will go through the chair of the Department of English. Currently, that material includes a vast array of poetry, essays, books, and recordings.
Appropriately, the full name of the fund is “The Answer is Yes: Fowler-Giovanni English Department Program Endowment.” The Answer is Yes: Yes to the value of celebrating people from underrepresented groups; Yes to artists and scholars; Yes to students just finding their voices; Yes to the arts and humanities; Yes to people who will use and remember Giovanni’s work; Yes to Virginia Tech as a place where the arts and humanities thrive.
This endowment is just one more way to help Virginia Tech invent the future. The contribution began more than two decades ago, when Fowler took the initial steps to help women and minorities become a more prominent thread in the Virginia Tech fabric. Recruiting Giovanni brought momentum to that drive and together, “we want this gift to help Virginia Tech to become part of the cultural map with regard to the humanities and the arts,” said Giovanni. “[Virginia] Tech is already known for academics and athletics and this gift will add a third ‘A’ with the Arts.”
The legacy gift will fund two initiatives in the department: a visiting scholars’ speaker series and a student opportunities fund. “This gift will assure that our visiting speakers will be hosted in a celebratory way,” said Department Chair Carolyn Rude. “Our students will have opportunities to thrive, perhaps by being funded for travel to read poetry or scholarly work at professional conferences, to study abroad, or by events the department may host for them.”
With the Fowler-Giovanni legacy bequeathal, Virginia Tech will eventually become the literary guardian of two of its own most significant scholars.
Fowler began her career as a scholar of Henry James, on whom she has written a widely cited book. Early on, however, she says she noted an incongruous absence of writing by women and minorities in what was deemed a liberal arts education. With a small group of faculty colleagues, Fowler helped to establish the foundation of the women’s studies program and successfully competed for a grant to incorporate a diversity of perspectives into the core curriculum.
Her focus on issues of inclusiveness dovetailed with her own scholarly interests in African-American literature. After hearing Giovanni lecture in 1986, Fowler was so impressed that she nominated Giovanni for a Virginia Commonwealth Visiting Scholars and Artists appointment. Giovanni accepted the invitation and came to Virginia Tech in 1987. Two years later, the Department of English granted Giovanni both tenure and rank.
Fowler, who authored Giovanni’s biography as well as a highly regarded critical volume on novelist Gloria Naylor, is recognized as a top scholar in black women’s fiction. Associate department chair Nancy Metz notes that Fowler is also known for her mentoring of minority faculty and students, for whom she is “by turns, an advocate, constructive critic, mentor, and friend – a multi-dimensional resource with infinitely expandable office hours.” Metz noted that Fowler contributed greatly to the retention of women and minority hires, offering “timely and strategic counsel about the promotion and tenure process.”
Giovanni also applauds Fowler as her own mentor. “Ginney advocates for women and looks deep into the issues,” said Giovanni.
Fowler, who serves as the director of the English department’s Literature, Language, and Culture Option program, is drawn to stories of the contemporary immigrant experience, reading various ethnic-American authors, such as Arab, Chinese, and Caribbean-American. Fowler says she believes that this diversity of voices brings fresh perspectives to stories and themes, making their work compelling and rich. The recipient of the English department and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Diversity Award, Fowler currently explores, in her own words, “the relationship of gender to genre and the relationship of genre to the social and political contexts out of which – or against which – literature is written.”
Fowler’s forthcoming critical volume on Giovanni’s literary biography will be published by Praeger with anticipated publication in 2011.
The author of 30 books, Giovanni won a 2008 American Book Award for The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni 1968-1998. Over the course of more than three decades of publishing and lecturing, she has come to be called both a “National Treasure” and, most recently, one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 “Living Legends.” The winner of six NAACP Image Awards, Giovanni’s honors have been steady and plentiful throughout her career.
The recipient of dozens of honorary degrees, she has been named Woman of the Year by Mademoiselle Magazine, The Ladies Home Journal, and Ebony Magazine. She was tapped for the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame and named an Outstanding Woman of Tennessee. Giovanni has also received Governor’s Awards from both Tennessee and Virginia. She was the first recipient of the Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, and she has also been awarded the Langston Hughes Medal for poetry. A scientist who admires her work even named a new species of bat he discovered for her.
Recent testament to Giovanni’s versatility and popularity is the fact that two of her books, Hip Hop Speaks to Children and Bicycles-Love Poems were both featured in the New York Times best seller’s list at the same time in 2009. Her children’s book Rosa peaked at number three on the list in 2008.
“While the guardians of literary history have often been puzzled by the sometimes dizzying contradictions posed by Giovanni's poetry and prose, ordinary people — the people for whom she states she has always written — continue to keep her works in print, continue to fill the auditoriums in which she reads and lectures. Her place in literary history is undisputed because her voice speaks to and for people — about their joys and their sorrows, the forces arrayed against them and the strengths they bring as resistance — in tones and language they can understand.”