A fan of Nikki Giovanni approached the woman once called "a revolutionary poet" and commented on how Giovanni had mellowed.
Giovanni quickly quipped, "Yes, I hope so. I'm old now."
But Giovanni, 48, and her poetry proved ageless Friday, as she addressed a crowd of about 100 Anne Arundel Community College students,faculty and community members.
Giovanni, nicknamed "the princess of black poetry," told the crowd she was delighted to finally have a chance to address them. She was scheduled to speak to students in February as part of Black History Month, but snow forced the cancellation of her appearance.
"I was right in Baltimore when they called and said they were canceling," Giovanni said. "Coming from Cincinnati, I'm used to snow. They don't close down unless it's 12, 14 inches. You had five, six inches. That's not snow."
Giovanni talked to the crowd of young and old, male and female, black and white at length before she read four selections of her poetry. She began by trying to recruit students from the two-year college to the four-year institute where she teaches, Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
"You have to go somewhere when you leave here," Giovanni said. "It's a wonderful place to be because there are no distractions. Here, you have the city todistract you. In Blacksburg, you'll do well because there won't be anything else for you to do."
The author of dozens of books and recordings, and the subject of a documentary on her works, Giovanni recited "I Am She", a poem she wrote for herself at age 40.
She also recited a love poem in honor of spring, "My House", and one of her best-known poems, "Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day."
Giovanni told the students that they may go off to college saying they will not change, but changing is part of education.
"The reason (parents) want you to get educated is so that you will change," Giovanni said. "You must change. If you don't change, there will be a system of no change. We could call that the Bush administration."
The president and government came under fire from Giovanni for their policies of dealing withthe homeless. "(Washington) D.C. looks like a third-world country," Giovanni said, noting the number of homeless on that city's streets.
Having fought for civil rights and equality in education, Giovannisaid people must learn to value life and care for one another. She said it has always amazed her how much time people devote to gossipingand worrying about what someone else is doing.
"You must understand fools," she said. "There are quite a few of them out there. You must go beyond the fools. The people who are telling you, 'No, you can't,' are fools."
Giovanni said racism should no longer be an issue for people as the world moves into the 21st century.
"You and I have got to change the way we look at the world," she said. "We've got to go into the year 2000 with a better understanding of what the last2000 years have meant. It's stupid that we are dealing with racism as if it were the beginning of the 1800s. It's just dumb."
Giovannisaid human beings must rethink what it means to be a human being. She said people must realize that they are caretakers of the earth.
"It ought to break your heart that we're cutting down the rain forest," she said. "It ought to break your heart to hear someone say they shot a deer for sport. They were hunting. For what? The deer couldn't shoot back. We take pride in what we have destroyed and not in what we have saved.
"When people are on their death beds, I have yet to hear anyone say, 'I wish I could have hated a little more. I wish I could have spent five extra hours at the office,' " Giovanni said.
"People on their death beds say 'I wish I had told you I loved you a little more.' If that's what you're going to do on your death bed, why don't you do it in your life."