Jordan, A. Van
Jordan, A. Van
(Aaron Van Jordan)
Born in Akron, OH. Education: Howard University, M.A.; Warren Wilson College, M.F.A., 1998.
Home—Austin, TX. Office—University of Texas at Austin, Department of English, 1 University Station, B5000, Austin, TX 78712. E-mail—[email protected]
During early career worked in Washington, DC, as a WritersCorps teacher for AmeriCorps, and as a reporter for Environmental Reporter and Air &Water Pollution News; Prince George's Community College, Largo, MD, former faculty member; Warren Wilson College, Asheville, NC, former writing faculty member; University of Texas at Austin, currently assistant professor of English. Member, Cave Canem Workshop.
Poison Clan Collective (founding member).
Literary fellowship, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, 1995; Joan Beebe Graduate Teaching Fellow, 1999-2001; Greenwall Fund grant, Academy of American Poets, 2001; PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award, 2002, for Rise; Whiting Writers Award, and Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, both 2004, both for M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A; Best Books of the Year list, Times Literary Supplement, 2005, for M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A; Pushcart Prize nominations, 1999, 2001; Pushcart Prize, 2006.
Rise, Tia Chucha Press (Chicago, IL), 2001.
M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2004.
Quantum Lyrics, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to Forward Book of Poetry 2007.
A. Van Jordan has already established himself as an innovative new voice in American poetry. He has earned prestigious awards such as the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award for his first book, Rise, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, which acknowledge his creativity in expressing important themes, such as racism, through a variety of poetic forms. "Jordan represents the new African-American writer," Josef Sawyer proposed in a Hilltop Online article. "Many writers are not on Jordan's level."
With degrees from Howard University and Warren Wilson College, Jordan actually revealed to Nat Creole on the Nat Creole Magazine Online that he "wanted to be a filmmaker, but film schools don't offer much financial assistance. I was nearly thirty when I made the commitment to writing." Jordan was working in Washington, DC, as an environmental reporter when, as he told Anna Clark on the ISAK Web site, "poetry found me." He enjoyed spending time at coffee houses and listening to poetry readings. After a while, people saw that he was a regular and asked if he wrote verses. He gave it a try and stood at the mic to read poems, getting hooked on the experience. "When I read a poem to people publicly," he told Clark, "they listened in a very different way from the way they listened in daily conversation. I could tell that people leaned in, which had never been my experience before the poem. For the first time, I found that I was communicating across a racial/cultural line that I thought—up to that point, at least—was insurmountable."
Jordan earned a master's degree in fine arts, studying under E. Ethelbert Miller, a renowned poet, and took up teaching while working on his poems. His first collection, Rise, "is filled with energy that fuses jazz, gospel, blues and sonnets," according to Clark, who noted that it received wide critical acclaim. By the time Rise was published in 2001, Jordan had two prestigious Pushcart Prizes to his name, and in 2006 he would win the award. The poet has been praised for his inventiveness, not only in incorporating a musical style in some of his verses, but also other intriguing elements, such as a film script form in parts of Quantum Lyrics. In his second collection, M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, Jordan creates a narrative biography using various voices and forms, as well.
M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A is about the true story of MacNolia Cox, an African American woman who, as a girl in 1936, won the Ohio state spelling bee and would have won the national bee, except that the competition had been fixed to ensure that a black student would not win. As her life goes on, Cox finds the restrictions placed on her by society lead to a limited life. She becomes a humble cleaning woman, raises a family, and dies in obscurity. Jordan begins his collection with Cox's obituary, then jumps around in time to touch on different parts of her life. Sometimes this is told from her perspective, but other characters, such as her husband, come into play as well, and readers learn about their son, who dies in Vietnam. "The story is indeed compelling, but the strength of this book is in the telling," remarked Gregory Pardlo in the Black Issues Book Review. The critic praised Jordan's use of vernacular, as well as his "rare lyricism and emotional insight." Julia A. Galbus, writing in the African American Review, especially noted the way the poet experiments with different forms, writing that the "most original is a series of dictionary definition prose poems that continue the story as the defined word is used in succeeding sentences."
Jordan's Quantum Lyrics "uses quantum physics as its unifying theme," the poet told Creole. "The book explores personal relationships and politics and tries to explain these tough scenarios through some of the theories and philosophies of physics." While a number of famous physicists make appearances in the collection, the central figure is Albert Einstein, whom Jordan admires not only for his brilliant mind but also for his work championing civil rights, a facet of the scientist's personality about which many Americans are unaware. In a Cortland Review article by David Rigsbee, the critic elaborated: "Although Einstein's inner life provides the massive centerpiece for this collection, it is bookended by poems delivered in the voice of [Richard] Feynman bearing on the question of symmetry, which is to say, the question that addresses what aspects of a system remain unchanged as transformations get in gear. Like other borrowings from physics in this book—relativity, quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle, string theory—the emphasis is on the application to existential and psychological facts about people." Interestingly, Jordan waxes playful, too, including poems about a superhero named Atom who is able to shrink himself to the size of his namesake; ironically, in life he feels that no one notices him until he demonstrates a superpower that, in effect, makes him invisible. Science and chance interplay with each other in the verses, ultimately seeking to comment on nothing less than the nature of life and existence. "This is a rich and accessible collection, enjoyable, and knowledgeable," Rigsbee concluded. "The integration of science and poetry is as smooth as it is unexpected," stated Louis McKee in Library Journal, and a Publishers Weekly contributor described the volume as "often delightful, always clear and occasionally profound."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
African American Review, September 22, 2006, Julia A. Galbus, review of M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, p. 595.
American Book Review, July 1, 2005, "Nemesis Blues."
Believer, November-December, 2007, Thomas March, review of Quantum Lyrics.
Black Issues Book Review, September 1, 2004, Gregory Pardlo, review of M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A.
Cortland Review, winter, 2007, David Rigsbee, "The Synchronicity of Scenes."
Library Journal, April 1, 2004, Rochelle Ratner, review of M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, p. 98; September 15, 2007, Louis McKee, review of Quantum Lyrics, p. 64.
Publishers Weekly, June 21, 2004, review of M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, p. 58; June 25, 2007, review of Quantum Lyrics, p. 35.
Washington Post Book World, June 13, 2004, Edward Hirsch, review of M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, p. 12.
Hilltop Online,http://media.www.thehilltoponline.com/ (October 1, 2002), Josef Sawyer, "A. Van Jordan: All about the Poetry."
ISAK,http://www.isak.typepad.com/isak/ (May 6, 2008), Anna Clark, "A. Van Jordan: Where Physics, Poetry, and Politics Collide."
Nat Creole Magazine Online,http://www.natcreole.com/ (April 8, 2006), "A. Van Jordan, Writer. Poet."