18 pages 36 minutes read

Nikki Giovanni

Ego Tripping

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1968

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“Ego Tripping,” also known as “Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why),” is one of American poet Nikki Giovanni’s most well-known poems. Giovanni first published this poem in 1972, which is the year that also marks Giovanni’s first trip to Africa, three years after the birth of her son. As the title of the poem suggests, this poem is a fulsome celebration of the many facets of Giovanni’s identity as a Black woman. Written at a tumultuous time in American history, “Ego Tripping” contains deeply personal discussions of pride and identity that reflect the poet’s notions of self; as well, the poem is full of highly political commentary reflective of the changing ideas around race and gender that correspond with the Civil Rights Movement and second-wave feminism.

No rhyme scheme or meter pattern is observable in “Ego Tripping,” but for many readers, the rhythm of the poem is its most memorable feature. When this poem is read out loud, the irregularity of the lines and the breaks give the words a musical quality that is at once catchy and unpredictable. Some contemporary music artists, for example, consider the rhythm of “Ego Tripping” as a precursor of sorts to the music genre of hip-hop—a comparison that Giovanni herself embraces, as evidenced by her own “Thug Life” tattoo. Both accessible and profound, “Ego Tripping” offers readers a point of entry into Giovanni’s complex world view.

Poet Biography

Nikki Giovanni was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr. in 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee. As a poet, an educator, and an author of children’s literature, Giovanni has published over 24 collections of poetry and essays and 11 books for children. Giovanni often illuminates matters of race and gender in her work, and the tone and subject matter of her writing has evolved over the decades of her long career. Giovanni began writing poetry after she graduated from Fisk University in 1967 to cope with her grief when her grandmother died. Later, emotions like rage and frustration characterized much of her work as she began to contribute to the Black Arts Movement, which took inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement. Giovanni revealed her political beliefs in her poetry, which led many critics to believe her to be an activist as well as an artist during the 1960s and 70s. Later in life, Giovanni wrote about her experience as a mother as well as other topics, and these reflections led to her works for children and adolescents.

Over her long career, Giovanni has won many awards and accolades, including a Grammy for a spoken word album titled The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection, a Maya Angelou Lifetime Achievement Award, and seven NAACP Image Awards. In 1973, Giovanni’s autobiography Gemini was a finalist for a National Book Award. Giovanni has also long been recognized as an advocate for other Black artists, especially writers whose mediums include hip-hop, spoken word, and slam poetry.

Currently, Giovanni teaches at Virginia Tech where she is a University Distinguished Professor in the English Department. The day after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, Giovanni delivered an address to the university community, encouraging resilience amongst the grieving students and faculty. Giovanni has also taught at Queens College, Rutgers University, and The Ohio State University.

Poem Text

Giovanni, Nikki. “Ego Tripping.” 1974. Academy of American Poets.


“Ego Tripping” is a rhythmic celebration of the speaker’s power and pride in both her African heritage and her womanhood over eight stanzas. The poem features unusual capitalization, as only the personal pronouns “I” and “My” are capitalized despite the presence of many proper nouns throughout the poem.

The poem, written entirely in the singular first person, begins with a declaration of the speaker’s birth, which takes place “in the congo” (Line 1). As the speaker tells her life story, she takes credit for accomplishments like the construction of “the sphinx” (Line 3) and “a pyramid” (Line 4).

In the second stanza, the speaker takes note of a moment when she sat on “the throne” (Line 8), drinking with “allah” (Line 9). She claims that both she and her daughter “nefertiti” (Line 12) are goddesses, establishing herself as a “beautiful woman” (Line 15) who is proud of her identity as well as her offspring. Alongside these accomplishments, the speaker calls herself “bad” (Line 7), using the adjective in its slang form to state that she is, in fact, “excellent” and/or “remarkable.”

The third stanza contains a description of the speaker’s extraordinary travels over “the sahara desert” (Line 17). Thanks to her incredible strength and power, the speaker completed the journey “in two hours” (Line 20), identifying herself as “a gazelle so swift” (Line 21).

In the fourth stanza, the speaker names one of her sons, “hannibal” (Line 24). According to the speaker’s descriptions, he is as impressive as his goddess sister, giving his mother “rome” (Line 25) as a present for Mother’s Day one year.

The speaker asserts herself in the fifth stanza as a divinely powerful being who “turned myself into myself and was / jesus” (Lines 30-31). She describes her sons, Hannibal and Noah, with pride before describing, in the sixth stanza, the rich resources like “diamonds” (Line 35), “uranium” (Line 36), and oil (Line 41), that she has bestowed upon humanity. The speaker describes sailing “west to reach east” (Line 43), taking her around the world. On the way, her thinning hair trails gold across the continents.

In an increasingly abstract culmination of the poem, the speaker concludes with two brief stanzas that affirm her divine perfection and strength. . With words that vault herself ever higher, the speaker asserts that one can only comprehend her “ethereal” (Line 47) perfection with her permission. The final stanza of the poem concludes with a line punctuated by ellipses, slowing down and almost soaring away as the speaker muses that she can fly “like a bird in the sky…” (Line 51), ending the poem mid-thought.