A Publication for the faculty, staff, administrators and friends of California State University, Chico
Feb. 10, 2005 Volume 35 / Number 5

Page One Stories

Filmmaker Bobby Shepard and Poet Nikki Giovanni to Visit Chico

Award-winning filmmaker Robert “Bobby” Shepard and Nikki Giovanni—poet, professor, and commentator—will visit California State University, Chico during February for Black History Month. Shepard will be on campus showing his films and lecturing on Tuesday evening, Feb. 15 and Wednesday, Feb. 16. Giovanni will speak on Feb. 18 at 7 pm in Harlen Adams Theatre.

Filmmaker Bobby Shepard

On Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 pm in Ayres 106, Shepard will host the University Film Series: When the Spirits Dance Mambo (Robert Shepard: producer and director of photography, Cuba, 2002) and The Murder of Emmett Till (Robert Shepard: director of photography, U.S.A., 2003). On Wednesday, Feb. 16, he will speak at the Conversation on Diversity series at noon in the Bell Memorial Union on “Filming Across the Racial Divide.”

Shepard will receive the key to the City of Chico from Mayor Scott Gruendl on Wednesday, Feb. 16, at a celebration at the CARD Center, 7–9 pm. The celebration of Black History Month—with music, drumming, and African dance troupes—is open to the public.

Shepard is an award-winning director of photography with more than 200 production credits in documentary, dramatic, commercial, and sports cinematography since 1975. His awards include IMPACT Repertory Theatre’s Dreamkeeper award (2003); International Black Panther Film Festival for Courage, Vision, and Commitment (2000); abd tge National Black Programming Consortium’s Oscar Micheaux Award for his “passion, perseverance, vision, and pioneering spirit” (1997). His numerous projects over the years include work on Brother Outside: The Life of Bayard Rustin; Ralph Ellison: An American Journey; Roots; Facing the Truth with Bill Moyers; Licensed to Kill; Black Is … Black Ain’t; and Eyes on the Prize I and II.

Shepard earned his BA from the Leonard Davis Center for the Performing Arts at the City College of New York and was a graduate fellow at the New York Institute of Technology. He served as a Marine sergeant in Vietnam in the 1960s. He is a childhood friend of Chico photographer Rudy Giscombe, who was instrumental in bringing Shepard to Chico.

Shepard is being hosted by the A.S. Committee on Arts and Lec-tures, Graduate, International, and Sponsored Programs, Humanities and Fine Arts, and Communication Design.

Poet and Professor Nikki Giovanni

Giovanni is the author of more than two dozen books. She was a finalist for a 2003 Grammy for The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection, a spoken-word CD. Her most recent books, Love Poems, Blues: For All the Changes, and Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea, were winners of the NAACP Image Award in 1998, 2000, and 2003, respectively. She is also well known for her book Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day. One of the most widely read American poets, Giovanni describes herself as “a Black American, a daughter, a mother, a professor of English.”

She has been a professor at Virginia Tech since 1987 and was named University Distinguished Professor in 1999. Giovanni has been honored across the country for her work, including the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry and the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award. She has been awarded more than 20 honorary degrees, and was presented a U.S. Senate Certificate of Commendation by California Senator Barbara Boxer.

Giovanni is the guest of Profes-sor Tracy Butts of Chico’s English department. Butts, a former student of Giovanni’s at Virginia Tech, says “Nikki’s voice has long echoed in this country. Her work reflects issues across the spectrum—love, families, race, and a whole host of social issues.” Giovanni had an influential role in Butts’s life as teacher and mentor. Butts believes that Giovanni provides a common thread among generations through her books and CDs.

Sponsors of Giovanni’s visit include the President’s Office, the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost’s Office, the Office of Student Affairs, the Committee on Arts and Lectures, the Associated Students, the California Faculty Association, and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. The reading is free and open to the public.

She Changed My Life!

Commentary by Tracy Butts, English

As a child in Virginia, I grew up reading the poetry of Nikki Giovanni. When I began school at Virginia Tech, I ran, not walked, over to the registration terminal and stood in line for hours to sign up for her classes, only to discover that they were full, which is always the case.

On the first day of classes, I showed up to each of her classes with my add slips, and she graciously added me, as well as a number of other students. Not to sound overly dramatic, but that semester, in those filled-to-capacity classrooms, changed my life forever.

I was in awe. Nikki Giovanni is an icon. Hers is a household name. I mean, my uncle, like countless other blacks, had in his music collection Truth is on the Way (1971), Giovanni’s award-winning album in which she reads a number of her earlier poems to gospel music, and he had seen her read live and on television countless times.

I had read about the rock concert-/black church-like atmospheres at the readings she gave to standing-room-only audiences, where people in the audience would recite word for word her poetry along with her, calling and responding to her as she read. I had heard about the people who traveled for miles just to hear her read, to be in the same room with her.

I have since had the chance to experience, an intentional word choice here, a number of Giovanni’s readings. And believe me, what I had read and heard was not hype—it’s the gospel truth. If you have had the chance to hear Giovanni read live, then you know what I mean when I say it is an experience. If you have not, then you owe it to yourself to find out what I mean and to experience Nikki Giovanni firsthand.

—Tracy Butts, Department of English



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