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Jordan, June 1936–2002

June Jordan 19362002

Poet, novelist, essayist, educator, activist

At a Glance

Selected writings

Sources

I write for as many different people as I can, acknowledging that in any problem situation you have at least two viewpoints to be reached, June Jordan said in a Publishers Weekly interview. Im also interested in telling the truth as I know it. By the mid-1990s Jordan had become one of the countrys most prominent contemporary black women writers. A nationally renowned lecturer and activist, she produced an extensive and varied body of work, through which she strongly affirmed herself, herrights as a woman, her thoughts on black consciousness, and her ties to the African-American community. Though she was best known for her intimate, powerfully direct poetry, Jordan also wrote award-winning childrens fiction, highly charged nonfiction pieces, plays, and songs.

Jordans poetry and other works reflect her belief in addressing the concerns of audiences of color, exploring black life, creating better living conditions for black families, and enhancing black culture. While self-realization is crucial, Jordan also believed in shared human goals for a better society; her poetry enabled her to express her political ideas while making art. She was frequently compared with politically conscious black poets such as Nikki Giovanni and Amiri Baraka, but her verse bore traces of other influences, including those of white American poet Walt Whitman, whose self-celebratory poems she admired.

Jordans varied works include her debut book of poems, titled Who Look at Me; her first young adult novel, His Own Where, which was nominated for the National Book Award and written entirely in black English; a biography written for young readers about Mississippi activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who struggled for black voting rights; the classic verse collection Things That I Do in the Dark; the essay collection Civil Wars, about violence in America from the 1960s to the 1980s; Naming Our Destiny, a 30-year compilation of poetry; and the 1992 book of essays, Technical Difficulties: African American Notes on the State of the Union.

In all, Jordan published twenty-seven books. One of her last books, Soldier: A Poets Childhood, published in 2000 is an autobiography and discusses her early childhood with an almost indifferent mother and sometimes brutally abusive father in some detail. In an Essence magazine interview with Alexis DeVeaux,

At a Glance

Born on July 9, 1936, in New York, NY; died June 14, 2002, in Berkeley, CA; daughter of Granville Ivanhoe (a postal clerk) and Mildred Maude (a nurse; maiden name, Fisher) Jordan; married Michael Meyer, 1955 (divorced, 1965); children: Christopher David. Education: Attended Barnard College and University of Chicago.

Career: Poet, prose writer, educator, activist. Assisted producer for film The Cool World, 1963-64; City College of the City University of New York, instructor, 1966-68, assistant professor of English, 1975-76; Yale University, visiting lecturer in English and Afro-American studies, 1974-75; taught English and directed Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge (SEEK Program) at Connecticut College, New London, 1967-69; taught literature at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, 1969-74; State University of New York at Stony Brook, assistant professor, 1978-82, professor of English, 1982-89, director of poetry center and creative writing program, 1986-89; professor of Afro-American Studies and Womens Studies at University of California at Berkeley, 1989-02.

Memberships: Board member, Center for Constitutional Rights, 1984-02, New York Foundation for the Arts, and PEN American Center.

Awards: Rockefeller grant for creative writing, 1969-70; Nancy Bloch Award, 1971, for The Voice of the Children; chosen one of the years best young adult novelists, New York Times, 1971; National Book Award nomination, 1971, for His Own Where; Yaddo fellow, 1979-80; National Endowment for the Arts fellow in poetry, 1982; award for international reporting from National Association of Black Journalists, 1984; New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in poetry, 1985; Writers for Writers Award from Barnes & Noble. 2001.

Jordan summed up her relationship with the two of them. My mother was shadowy. I would be very hard-put to tell you what about me, about the way I am or think, comes from my mother. My father was very intense, passionate and over-the-top. He was my hero and my tyrant. She also told De Veaux that the message that she hoped to send to young black girls who read Soldier is that the girl can survive and become the womanthat she need not assume a victim mentality that she can take control and overcome adversity.

Born in Harlem on July 9, 1936, Jordan was the only child of hardworking immigrant parents who moved to New York City from the island of Jamaica. Her father, Granville Ivanhoe Jordan, held a night position at the U.S. Postal Service, while her mother, Mildred, worked as a nurse. Jordan spent her first five years in Harlem before the family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. It was there that she wrote her first poems at the age of seven. Her concern with her family and locale stayed with her into adulthood and prompted her to write in her essay collection Civil Wars: You begin with your family and the kids on the block, and next you open your eyes to what you call your people and that leads you into land reform into Black English into Angola [and that] leads you back to your own bed.

Jordans childhood was a painful one. She grew up in a home where her father beat her out of his own sense of oppression while her mother stood passively by. These early experiences contributed to her passionate search for self-realizationa search that was delayed by her parents decision to send her for three years to an all-white New England preparatory school, the Northfield School for Girls in Massachusetts. In her English classes there, she studied almost exclusively the work of white male poets, which she later acknowledged had a stifling effect on her growth as an African-American artist.

After graduating from prep school, Jordan entered Barnard College in the fall of 1953. There she met Michael Meyer, a Columbia University student, whom she married in 1955. Because Meyer was white, the couple experienced the anguish of intense racial prejudiceduring the pre-civil rights era in the United States, interracial marriages were against the law in many states. Jordan interrupted her schooling at Barnard in 1955 for a year of studies at the University of Chicago, where her husband was getting his graduate degree in anthropology; she returned to Barnard the next year.

Two years later, their son, Christopher David Meyer, was born. But Jordans relationship with her husband was deteriorating. Increasingly she was raising and supporting her son alone and developing her own varied interests in poetry, journalism, the civil rights movement, and the Harlem community. She assisted a documentary filmmaker in producing a film about Harlems street kids called The Cool World. She also worked on a proposal with architect Buckminster Fuller to build low-cost, aesthetic housing in the Harlem community. Her work of the period was extensively influenced by her surroundings, by the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and by the factors that lead to the Harlem riots of 1964, which she observed and wrote about.

After she and her husband divorced in 1965, Jordan supported herself and her son alone and took various teaching positions. She taught English and literature at the City College of the City University of New York, Connecticut College, Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. By 1982 she had been named a full professor at SUNY Stony Brook, and four years later she was directing the schools poetry center and creative writing program. She began teaching Afro-American and womens studies at the University of California at Berkeley in 1989.

After the publication of her first book of poetry, Who Look at Me, in 1969, Jordan wrote a series of powerful works that chronicled her lifes struggle and reflected her growing maturity. The title poem in this first book best shows her movement away from victimization and toward resistance; in it she wrote about the way she thought many white people of that era viewed people of color: A white stare splits obliterates/the nerve-wrung wrist from work/the breaking ankle or/the turning glory/of a spine. Although the world/forgets me/I will say yes/AND NO. I am black, alive and looking back at you.

By the time her major collection of poetry, Things That I Do in the Dark, edited by novelist Toni Morrison, was published in 1977, Jordan viewed herself thus: I am a stranger/learning to worship the strangers on earth/around me/whoever you are/whoever I may become. In her heavily autobiographical essay book Civil Wars, published four years later, Jordan describes an American landscape torn apart by racial tension and violence. Black writer Toni Cade Bambara summarized the book and put it in historical context in Ms. magazine: [Civil Wars is a] chilling but profoundly hopeful vision of living in the USA. Jordans vibrant spirit manifests itself throughout this collection of articles, letters, journal entries, and essays. What is fundamental to that spirit is caring, commitment, a deep-rooted belief in the sanctity of life. Civil Wars is an autobiography very much in the vein of Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept, by W. E. B. Du Bois, the distinguished black scholar and activist of an earlier generation.

Jordans works reveal an unwavering concern for basic human rights and equity for all people. In her Poem About My Rights, which appeared in her famous collection about violence in society titled Passion: New Poems, 1977-1980, she expresses rage and frustration at racial and sexual discrimination: We are the wrong people of /the wrong skin on the wrong continent. It was my father saying I was wrong saying that/I should have been a boy because he wanted one. I am the history of the rejection of who I am. But she also affirms herself and vows to defend herself if necessary: I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name/My name is my own my own my own/and I cant tell you who the hell set things up like this/but I can tell you that from now on my resistance/my simple and daily and nightly self-determination/may very well cost you your life.

Critics have underscored Jordans simultaneously personal and universal appeal, as well as her use of Black English and irony. She is a poet for many people, speaking in a voice they cannot fail to understand about things they will want to know, commented Susan Mernit in Library Journal [Passion] elucidates those moments when personal life and political struggle, two discrete elements, suddenly entwine. Commenting on the power and skill of Jordans writings, Ms. magazine contributor Joan Larkin wrote, June Jordans language is a high energy blend of street and literary idiom. Irony is basic to Jordans perception of a violent, antiblack, antifemale culture. Other reviewers acknowledged her adherence to a black oral tradition. In a lengthy essay in African American Review, Scott MacPhail discusses Jordans role as a black intellectual. About Jordan he says, June Jordans career thus inspires a broadening of our expectations for what an African-American intellectual can and should do, and how she can do it.

Because of her personal experiences, Jordan often expressed identification with other nonwhite peoples around the globe who seek self-determination. Her books On Call and Living Room, collections of essays and poetry respectively, reflect her identification with the Palestinian people. In the 1980s her scathing poetic and prose criticism of Israeli policy concerning Lebanon and the Palestinians generated considerable controversy.

And, at other times on other topics, Jordan has drawn fire from critics for being one-sided and rhetorical. In 1989 when Naming Our Destiny her compilation of poetry spanning three decadeswas published along with previously uncollected verse, Publishers Weekly commented: [Jordan] attempts to shoulder too many causes here, at times losing herself in rhetoric and politics that could benefit from a fuller discussion. However, in her best work, Jordan takes an infectious delight in language, playing with words to transform experience. She makes artful use of rhyme, and draws from slave ballads and blues music to protest the everyday human tribulations that otherwise might go unnoticed. We witness the author progressing from a youthful struggle with identity to a mature feminist assertion of the rights of all people.

In her 1992 collection of essays, Technical Difficulties: African American Notes on the State of the Union, Jordan discusses her immigrant Brooklyn familys quest for the American dream; she also deals with enduring stereotypes about race and class, as well as myths surrounding African-American historical figures from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Anita Hill. Commented Adele Logan Alexander in the Womens Review of Books, June Jordan has a prolific intellect and a vast reservoir of extraordinary and broad-based knowledge, yet her writing maintains its solid grounding in everyday experience. Though Jordans voice often made those who support the status quo uncomfortable, her clear aim was to raise questions about the way we live and to provide people with visions of future alternatives.

In her written work and her activities, Jordan worked throughout her life to make sure that the black community remembered to value the black experience and black culture. She campaigned for the recognition of Black English and wrote several poems, essays, and a full-length book, His Own Where, in Black English. Two of her essays, Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and White English/Black English: The Politics of Translation explain why she felt Black English is important and why it should be studied as a dialect. In her later years, Jordan often took up the cause of black figures that she felt needed it. In one if her essays she speaks out against the black leadership in America for their failure to back Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings. In another she wrote a Requiem for the Champ, speaking about the forces that formed Mike Tyson and caused him to react with such violence. She explains that in determining responsibility for this type of violence, we must look to the community and economic structure that formed the manshe says There must be some way for our culture to reward a black man for something other than violence; there must be something else for a black man from the ghetto to do or be.

In 1995, in a rather interesting side track to her career, Jordan collaborated with composer John Adams and director Peter Sellers in a romantic musical that explored life in late 20th century Los Angeles. The result was a short-lived production called I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I saw the Sky. In a review for Insight on the News, Gale Hanson writes But the best anyone could wish for this ill-conceived and badly executed effort is that the stage floor would open and swallow the production whole.

Much of Jordans written work is drawn from her own life and experiences. Perhaps the clearest indication of her character can be found in her introduction to Civil Wars. Here she talks about how her uncle helped her learn to stand up to the bullies in this worldIts a bully. Probably you cant win. But if you go in there, saying to yourself, I may not win this one but its going to cost you theyll leave you alone. It is apparent that she lived her life with this philosophy. nobody fought me twice, she continues in the introduction. They said I was crazy. She spent her life working for the improvement of conditions in the black community and in many other areas where she thought there were inequalities and injustice.

In early 2002 Jordan received the 2001 Writers for Writers Award from Barnes & Noble. She was honored as a writer who had given generously to other writers and helped broaden the literary community. In particular, she was praised for her work in establishing the organization Poetry for the People. This organization offers free poetry workshops in high schools, community centers, churches and prisons in underprivileged communities.

Jordan died on June 14, 2002 in San Francisco at the age of 65. She had breast cancer. She leaves a legacy of her writings for future generations to read and emulate.

Selected writings

Poetry Who Look at Me, Crowell, 1969.

Some Changes, Dutton, 1971.

New Days: Poems of Exile and Return, Emerson Hall, 1974.

Things That I Do in the Dark: Selected Poetry, edited by Toni Morrison, Random House, 1977.

Passion: New Poems, 1977-1980, Beacon Press, 1980.

Living Room: New Poems, Thunders Mouth Press, 1985.

Lyrical Campaigns: Selected Poems, Virago Press, 1989.

Naming Our Destiny: New and Selected Poems, Thunders Mouth Press, 1989.

Essays Civil Wars, Beacon Press, 1981.

On Call: Political Essays, South End Press, 1985.

Moving Towards Home: Political Essays, Virago Press, 1989.

Technical Difficulties: African American Notes on the State of the Union, Pantheon, 1992.

For young readers His Own Where, Crowell, 1971.

Dry Victories, Holt, 1972.

Fannie Lou Hamer, Crowell, 1972.

New Room: New Life, Crowell, 1975.

Kimakos Story, Houghton, 1981.

Plays In the Spirit of Sojourner Truth, produced in New York City at the Public Theatre, May 1979.

For the Arrow That Flies by Day, (staged reading), produced in New York City at the Shakespeare Festival, April 1981.

Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, 1995.

Kissing God Goodbye: Poems 1991-1997, 1997.

Soldier, A Poets Childhood, 2000.

Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays, 2002.

Sources

Books

Authors of Books for Young People, Scarecrow Press, 1990, p. 377.

Black Writers, 2nd edition, Gale, 1994.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 5, 1976; Volume 11, 1979; Volume 23, 1983.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 38: Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers, Gale, 1985.

Jordan, June, Who Look at Me, Crowell, 1969.

Jordan, June, Things That I Do in the Dark: Selected Poetry, edited by Toni Morrison, Random House, 1977.

Jordan, June, Passion: New Poems, 1977-1980, Beacon Press, 1980.

Jordan, June, Civil Wars, Beacon Press, 1981.

Jordan, June, Technical Difficulties: African American Notes on the State of the Union, Pantheon Books, 1992.

Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Norton, 1988, p. 1467.

Periodicals

African American Review, Fall 1998, p. 504; Spring 1999, p. 57.

Essence, October 1992; September 2000, p. 102.

Insight on the News, June 12, 1995, p. 33.

Lambda Book Report, April 2002, p.32.

Library Journal, November 1, 1989, p. 92.

Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1992, p. E-l.

Ms., April 1975; April 1981; July/August 1990, p. 71.

Nation, January 29, 1990, p. 135.

New Statesman, June 5, 1987, p. 38; January 6, 1989, p. 31.

Ou t magazine, December 1992/January 1993.

Progressive, October 1989, p. 12; February 1991, p. 18; July 1991, p. 12; November 1991, p. 11; January 1992, p. 11; February 1992, p. 18; March 1992, p. 13; June 1992, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly, May 1, 1981, pp. 12-13; October 27, 1989, p. 62; August 17, 1992; May 8, 2000 p. 218; July 8, 2002, p. 42.

Village Voice, July 20, 1982; August 17, 1982.

Womens Review of Books, April 1993, p. 6.

Alison Carb Sussman and Pat Donaldson

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Jordan, June 1936–

June Jordan 1936

Poet, novelist, essayist, educator, activist

At a Glance

Search for Self-Realization Spurred by Abusive Childhood

Themes of Resistance

Struggled with Race and Gender Bias

Seeking Self-Determination

Selected writings

Sources

I write for as many different people as I can, acknowledging that in any problem situation you have at least two viewpoints to be reached, June Jordan said in a Publishers Weekly interview. Im also interested in telling the truth as I know it. By the mid-1990s Jordan had become one of the countrys most prominent contemporary black women writers. A nationally renowned lecturer and activist, she has produced an extensive and varied body of work. In it she strongly affirms herself, her rights as a woman, her thoughts on black consciousness, and her ties to the African American community. Though she is best known for her intimate, powerfully direct poetry, Jordan has also written award-winning childrens fiction, highly charged nonfiction pieces, plays, and songs.

Jordans poetry and other works reflect her belief in addressing the concerns of audiences of color, exploring black life, creating better living conditions for black families, and enhancing black culture. While self-realization is crucial, Jordan also believes in shared human goals for a better society; her poetry enables her to express her political ideas while making art. She is frequently compared with politically conscious black poets such as Nikki Giovanni and Amiri Baraka, but her verse bears traces of other influences, including those of white American poet Walt Whitman, whose self-celebratory poems she admires.

Jordans varied works include her debut book of poems, titled Who Look at Me; her first young adult novel, His Own Where, which was nominated for the National Book Award and written entirely in black English; a biography written for young readers about Mississippi activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who struggled for black voting rights; the classic verse collection Things That I Do in the Dark; the essay collection Civil Wars, about violence in America from the 1960s to the 1980s; Naming Our Destiny, a 30-year compilation of poetry; and the 1992 book of essays, Technical Difficulties: African American Notes on the State of the Union.

Born in Harlem on July 9, 1936, Jordan was the only child of hardworking immigrant parents who moved to New York City from the island of Jamaica. Her father, Granville Ivanhoe Jordan, held a night position at the U.S. Postal Service, while her mother, Mildred, worked as a nurse. Jordan spent her first five years in Harlem before the family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

At a Glance

Born July 9, 1936, in New York City; daughter of Granville Ivanhoe (a postal clerk) and Mildred Maude (a nurse; maiden name, Fisher) Jordan; married Michael Meyer, 1955 (divorced, 1965); children: Christopher David. Education: Attended Bamard College and University of Chicago.

Poet, prose writer, educator, activist. Assisted producer for film The Cool World, 1963-64; City College of the City University of New York, instructor, 1966-68, assistant professor of English, 197576; taught English and directed Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge (SEEK Program) at Connecticul College, New London, 196769; taught literature at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, 196974; State University of New York at Stony Brook, assistant professor. 197882, professor of English, 198289, director of poetry center and creative writing program, 198689; professor of Afro-American Studies and Womens Studies at University of California at Berkeley, 1989. Visiting lecturer in English and Afro-American studies at Yale University, 197475; board member, Center for Constitutional Rights, 1984, New York Foundation for the Arts, and PEN American Center.

Selected awards: Rockefeller grant for creative writing, 196970; Nancy Bloch Award, 1971, for The voice ol the Children ; chosen one of the years best young adult novelists, New York Times, 1971; National Book Award nomination, 1971, for His Own Where ; Yaddo fellow, 197980; National Endowment for the Arts fellow in poetry, 1982; award for international reporting from National Association of Black Journalists, 1984; New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in poetry, 1985.

Addresses: Office Department of Afro-American Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 3335 Dwinelle Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720.

It was there that she wrote her first poems at the age of seven. Her concern with her family and locale stayed with her into adulthood and prompted her to write in her essay collection Civil Wars: You begin with your family and the kids on the block, and next you open your eyes to what you call your people and that leads you into land reform into Black English into Angola [and that] leads you back to your own bed.

Search for Self-Realization Spurred by Abusive Childhood

Jordans childhood was a painful one. She grew up in a home where her father beat her out of his own sense of oppression while her mother stood passively by. These early experiences contributed to her passionate search for self-realizationa search that was delayed by her parents decision to send her for three years to an all-white New England preparatory school, the Northfield School for Girls in Massachusetts. In her English classes there, she studied almost exclusively the work of white male poets, which she later acknowledged had a stifling effect on her growth as an African American artist.

After graduating from prep school, Jordan entered Barnard College in the fall of 1953. There she met Michael Meyer, a Columbia University student, whom she married in 1955. Because Meyer was white, the couple experienced the anguish of intense racial prejudice. (During the pre-civil rights era in the United States, interracial marriages were against the law in many states.) Jordan interrupted her schooling at Barnard in 1955 for a year of studies at the University of Chicago, where her husband was getting his graduate degree in anthropology; she returned to Barnard the next year.

Two years later, their son, Christopher David Meyer, was born. But Jordans relationship with her husband was deteriorating. Increasingly she was raising and supporting her son alone and developing her own varied interests in poetry, journalism, the civil rights movement, and the Harlem community. She assisted a documentary filmmaker in producing a film about Harlems street kids called The Cool World. She also worked on a proposal with architect Buckminster Fuller to build low-cost, aesthetic housing in the Harlem community.

After she and her husband divorced in 1965, Jordan supported herself and her son alone and took various teaching positions. She taught English and literature at the City College of the City University of New York, Connecticut College, Sarah Lawrence College in Bronx-ville, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. By 1982 she had been named a full professor at SUNY Stony Brook, and four years later she was directing the schools poetry center and creative writing program. She began teaching Afro-American and womens studies at the University of California at Berkeley in 1989.

Themes of Resistance

Since the publication of her first book of poetry, Who Look at Me, in 1969, Jordan has written a series of powerful works that chronicle her lifes struggle and reflect her growing maturity. The title poem in this first book best shows her movement away from victimization and toward resistance; in it she writes about the way she thought many white people of that era viewed people of color: A white stare splits obliterates / the nerve-wrung wrist from work / the breaking ankle or / the turning glory / of a spine. Although the world / forgets me / I will say yes / AND NO. I am black, alive and looking back at you.

By the time her major collection of poetry, Things That I Do in the Dark, edited by novelist Toni Morrison, was published in 1977, Jordan viewed herself thus: I am a stranger / learning to worship the strangers on earth / around me / whoever you are / whoever I may become. In her heavily autobiographical essay book Civil Wars, published four years later, Jordan describes an American landscape torn apart by racial tension and violence. Black writer Toni Cade Bambara summarized the book and put it in historical context in Ms. magazine: [Civil Wars is a] chilling but profoundly hopeful vision of living in the USA. Jordans vibrant spirit manifests itself throughout this collection of articles, letters, journal entries, and essays. What is fundamental to that spirit is caring, commitment, a deep-rooted belief in the sanctity of life. Civil Wars is an autobiography very much in the vein of Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept, by W. E. B. Du Bois, the distinguished black scholar and activist of an earlier generation.

Struggled with Race and Gender Bias

Jordans works reveal an unwavering concern for basic human rights and equity for all people. In her Poem About My Rights, which appeared in her famous collection about violence in society titled Passion: New Poems, 1977-1980, she expresses rage and frustration at racial and sexual discrimination: We are the wrong people of / the wrong skin on the wrong continent. It was my father saying I was wrong saying that /I should have been a boy because he wanted one. I am the history of the rejection of who I am. But she also affirms herself and vows to defend herself if necessary: I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name / My name is my own my own my own / and I cant tell you who the hell set things up like this / but I can tell you that from now on my resistance / my simple and daily and nightly self-determination / may very well cost you your life.

Critics have underscored Jordans simultaneously personal and universal appeal, as well as her use of black English and irony. She is a poet for many people, speaking in a voice they cannot fail to understand about things they will want to know, commented Susan Mernit in Library Journal. [Passion] elucidates those moments when personal life and political struggle, two discrete elements, suddenly entwine. Commenting on the power and skill of Jordans writings, Ms. magazine contributor Joan Larkin wrote, June Jordans language is a high energy blend of street and literary idiom. Irony is basic to Jordans perception of a violent, antiblack, antifemale culture. Other reviewers acknowledged her adherence to a black oral tradition.

Seeking Self-Determination

Because of her personal experiences, Jordan often expresses identification with other nonwhite peoples around the globe who seek self-determination. Her books On Call and Living Room, collections of essays and poetry respectively, reflect her identification with the Palestinian people. In the 1980s her scathing poetic and prose criticism of Israeli policy concerning Lebanon and the Palestinians generated considerable controversy.

And, at other times on other topics, Jordan has drawn fire from critics for being one-sided and rhetorical. In 1989 when Naming Our Destiny her compilation of poetry spanning three decadeswas published along with previously uncollected verse, Publishers Weekly commented: [Jordan] attempts to shoulder too many causes here, at times losing herself in rhetoric and politics that could benefit from a fuller discussion. However, in her best work, Jordan takes an infectious delight in language, playing with words to transform experience. She makes artful use of rhyme, and draws from slave ballads and blues music to protest the everyday human tribulations that otherwise might go unnoticed. We witness the author progressing from a youthful struggle with identity to a mature feminist assertion of the rights of all people.

In her 1992 collection of essays, Technical Difficulties: African American Notes on the State of the Union, Jordan discusses her immigrant Brooklyn familys quest for the American dream; she also deals with enduring stereotypes about race and class, as well as myths surrounding African American historical figures from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Anita Hill. Commented Adele Logan Alexander in the Womens Review of Books, June Jordan has a prolific intellect and a vast reservoir of extraordinary and broad-based knowledge, yet her writing maintains its solid grounding in everyday experience. Though Jordans voice often makes those who support the status quo uncomfortable, her clear aim is to raise questions about the way we live and to provide people with visions of future alternatives.

Selected writings

Poetry

Who Look at Me, Crowell, 1969.

Some Changes, Dutton, 1971.

New Days: Poems of Exile and Return, Emerson Hall, 1974.

Things That I Do in the Dark: Selected Poetry, edited by Toni Morrison, Random House, 1977.

Passion: New Poems, 1977-1980, Beacon Press, 1980.

Living Room: New Poems, Thunders Mouth Press, 1985.

Lyrical Campaigns: Selected Poems, Virago Press, 1989.

Naming Our Destiny: New and Selected Poems, Thunders Mouth Press, 1989.

Essays

Civil Wars, Beacon Press, 1981.

On Call: Political Essays, South End Press, 1985.

Moving Towards Home: Political Essays, Virago Press, 1989.

Technical Difficulties: African American Notes on the State of the Union, Pantheon, 1992.

For young readers

His Own Where, Crowell, 1971.

Dry Victories, Holt, 1972.

Fannie Lou Hamer, Crowell, 1972.

New Room: New Life, Crowell, 1975.

Kimakos Story, Houghton, 1981.

Plays

In the Spirit of Sojourner Truth, produced in New York City at the Public Theatre, May 1979.

For the Arrow That Flies by Day, (staged reading), produced in New York City at the Shakespe are Festival, April 1981.

Other

Editor of anthologies, including Soulscript: Afro-American Poetry, Doubleday, 1970; and The Voice of the Children (a reader), Holt, 1970. Composer of lyrics and libretto Bang Bang Ueber Alles, 1985. Recorded readings include Things That I Do in the Dark, Spoken Arts, 1978; and For Somebody to Start Singing, Black Box/Watershed Foundation, 1980.

Contributor of stories and poems, sometimes under name June Meyer, to various periodicals, including Esquire, Nation, Evergreen, Partisan Review, Black World, Black Creation, Essence, Village Voice, New York Times, and New York Times Magazine. Political columnist for New Yorks Progressive magazine.

Sources

Books

Authors of Books for Young People, Scarecrow Press, 1990, p. 377.

Black Writers, 2nd edition, Gale, 1994.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 5, 1976; Volume 11, 1979; Volume 23, 1983.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 38: Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers, Gale, 1985.

Jordan, June, Who Look at Me, Crowell, 1969.

Jordan, June, Things That I Do in the Dark: Selected Poetry, edited by Toni Morrison, Random House, 1977.

Jordan, June, Passion: New Poems, 1977-1980, Beacon Press, 1980.

Jordan, June, Civil Wars, Beacon Press, 1981.

Jordan, June, Technical Difficulties: African American Notes on the State of the Union, Pantheon Books, 1992.

Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Norton, 1988, p. 1467.

Periodicals

Essence, October 1992.

Library Journal, November 1, 1989, p. 92.

Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1992, p. E-1.

Ms., April 1975; April 1981; July/August 1990, p. 71.

Nation, January 29, 1990, p. 135.

New Statesman, June 5, 1987, p. 38; January 6, 1989, p. 31.

Out magazine, December 1992/January 1993.

Progressive, October 1989, p. 12; February 1991, p. 18; July 1991, p. 12; November 1991, p. 11; January 1992, p. 11; February 1992, p. 18; March 1992, p. 13; June 1992, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly, May 1, 1981, pp. 12-13; October 27, 1989, p. 62; August 17, 1992.

Village Voice, July 20, 1982; August 17, 1982.

Womens Review of Books, April 1993, p. 6.

Alison Carb Sussman

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June Jordan

June Jordan

The Jamaican American poet June Jordan (born 1936) explored multicultural and multiracial reality, feminism, and Third World activism in her many poems. She was also politically active in revolutionary movements in the Third World.

June Jordan was born in Harlem on July 9, 1936, to Jamaican immigrants, Granville Ivanhoe and Mildred Jordan, who had left rural Jamaica in search of American prosperity. In 1942 the Jordans moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn where Jordan was raised in a home that was optimistic about America and middle-class in its aspirations. Her father was a postal worker, her mother a nurse, and one of her aunts the first African American principal in the New York public school system. The Jordans belonged to the Episcopal Church, and Jordan completed the last three years of high school at Northfield School for Girls, a religious preparatory school in Massachusetts.

As a young girl, Jordan's struggle to define herself as a female, African American person, and poet was both hampered and nurtured by the cultural ambivalences of her Jamaican American home. She had often violent disagreements with her parents. Growing up in Brooklyn, she survived physical abuse from her father starting at age 2. Yet she insists he had the greatest influence on her. An African American nationalist, he taught her how to fight using boxing, chairs and knives. "I got away any way I could," Jordan said. "I had the idea that to protect yourself, you try to hurt whatever is out there. I think of myself as my father's daughter." Her mother, who committed suicide when Jordan was an adolescent, never tried to intervene in their fights, she said. "At this point I'm far more forgiving of my father than my mother."

Jordan found the all-white environment of Northfield School crippling to her sense of identity and her urge to express her own reality in poetry.

Jordan entered Barnard College in 1953 but left New York in 1955 for Chicago after marrying Michael Meyer, a white student at Columbia University. While Meyer pursued a graduate degree at the University of Chicago, Jordan resumed her undergraduate career and struggled to cope with the tensions of an environment hostile to her interracial marriage. Back in New York, a year later, Jordan re-entered Barnard but ultimately chose to sacrifice her college education to raise her son Christopher and to support her husband's pursuit of a graduate degree. She wrote freelance articles under the name June Meyer, wrote speeches for James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), worked in city planning and in social programs for youth, and even served as a film assistant to the noted documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, who was filming The Cool World, a portrait of Harlem.

First Book Publication

Her first book-length publication was Who Look At Me (1969), a series of poetic fragments about Black identity in white America interspersed with paintings in the tradition of Langston Hughes' The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955), whose text alternated with the photographs of Roy de Carava. Jordan's book ends with the lines: "Who see the roof and corners of my pride / to be (as you are) free? / WHO LOOK AT ME?"

Jordan published early poems in Negro Digest and Black World, the journals out of which grew the nationalistic Black Aesthetic movement of the 1960s, but she felt the Black Arts movement was "too narrow." Her second volume, Some Changes (1971), includes poems reminiscent of the Black poetry of the 1960s, such as "Okay 'Negroes"' and "What Would I Do White." It also contains intense personal reflections, vivid domestic portraits such as "The Wedding" and "Uncle Bullboy," and historical poems that redefine America through a focus on its multicultural and multiracial reality, such as "47,000 Windows."

Subsequent volumes of poetry continued to explore these themes and reflected Jordan's increasing interest in feminism and her radical belief in the need for the Third World to combat Western domination. Her feminism reveals itself strongly in poems such as "Case in Point," which describes being raped, and "1978," a feminist statement of solidarity with all women (Passion, 1980). Jordan supported the Sandinistas of Nicaragua, the Palestinian struggle, and the South African fight against apartheid in both her writing and political activism. Although she called for violence in such poems as "I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies" in Things I Do in the Dark (1981), she also perceived herself as an American poet in the tradition of Walt Whitman, who she felt lost his deserved prominence in the American poetic tradition because of his all-encompassing vision of a multi-cultural, multiracial America and because of his life as an outsider, homosexual, and bohemian.

Her Many Works

Other books of poetry include New Day: Poems of Exile and Return (1974), I Love You (1975), The Things I Do in the Dark (1977), Things I Do in the Dark: Selected Poems 1954-1977 (1981), Passion: New Poems, 1977-1980 (1980), Living Room, New Poems: 1980-1984 (1985), and Naming Our Own Destiny: New and Selected Poems (1989). Her strength as an essayist is reflected in Civil Wars, Selected Essays: 1963-1980 (1981), On Call: New Political Essays: 1981-1985 (1986), and Moving Towards Home: Political Essays (1989).

Jordan's interest in children is reflected in The Voice of the Children (1970), an edited collection that grew out of a creative workshop for Black and Hispanic children, and poems for young people, such as Dry Victories (1972), Fannie Lou Hamer (1972), New Life: New Room (1975), and Kimako's Story (1981). She wrote a novel for young adults entitled His Own Where, which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1971.

Jordan wrote and produced three plays: In the Spirit of Sojourner Truth (1971), For the Arrow that Flies by Day (1981), and Bang Bang Uber Alles, a musical in collaboration with the composer Adrienne Torfin. The last, which targeted racial hate groups, was picketed by the Ku Klux Klan. Jordan wrote the libretto for "I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky"—an unusual song-play about social issues in Los Angeles told in popular song with composer John Adams, and director Peter Sellars.

Later Work

She also brings her analysis to bear on events that have captured the national stage in Technical Difficulties: African American Notes on the State of the Union (1995). "America in Confrontation With Democracy" looks at the reasons behind Jesse Jackson's failed 1988 presidential campaign. Jordan examines the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings in "Can I Get a Witness," where she condemns Hill's enemies. "To be a Black woman in this savage country: Is that to be nothing and no one revered and defended and given our help and our gratitude?" she writes. Other topics Jordan explored in "Technical Difficulties" included the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.; the poverty of American education; the fall of Mike Tyson; and the Rodney King verdict and the Los Angeles riots.

In addition to her essay collection, Jordan released a book of poems. The book is a serious, intense, poetry collection. Jordan rewrites and stretches the definition of love. She is not subtle or afraid of the full range of passion that these four letters encompass. She writes as a confident woman, a poet for whom words are precious tears caught in one's palm. Through her provocative and vivid imagery, she invites the reader to celebrate everyday pleasures that are transformed into extraordinary feelings as a result of being in love.

Touchstone (1995) is a collection of essays and previously unpublished musings, first issued in 1980. The final essay was written when Jimmy Carter worked in the Oval Office. Yet the writing remains amazingly fresh, a testimony to the strength of Jordan's convictions, and the intractability of segregation and ignorance in this country. Whether she's writing letters, magazine articles or speeches, Jordan pours herself into the issue at hand, which could be police brutality, neglect of New York City schoolchildren or Zora Neale Hurston's overlooked status as a writer. Jordan's think pieces contain a vision of current events wide enough to contain history, and that gives them shelf life long after their use-by dates.

Overall, Jordan is probably best known for her strident poems decrying the unjust murder of black youths by police throughout New York. Underlying the angry tone of those poems about police brutality, is the love Jordan feels for her people. Jordan has never shown that she fears undressing in public. Evidenced in her poignant, poetic essay, "Many Rivers to Cross," Jordan traces her remarkable journey from being a recently divorced single parent, confronted by unemployment and her mother's suicide, to a woman who relinquishes weakness. In other essays and poems about being raped, June Jordan repeatedly shares deeply personal pains; she renders herself vulnerable so that others may garner strength and stand bravely assured, determined to survive the storm.

Jordan was awarded a Prix de Rome in environmental design to write and live in Rome, in 1970 after being nominated by R. Buckminster Fuller. Jordan taught at City College in New York, Connecticut College, Sarah Lawrence College, Yale University, and State University of New York, and Stony Brook, Long Island, where she taught for many years. She was a professor of African American studies at the University of California (Berkeley) in 1997.

Further Reading

For more biographical information, see Jordan's Civil Wars (1981); Alexis Deveaux, "Creating Soul Food," in Essence (April 1981); and The Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Dramatists and Prose Writers after 1955 (volume 38); further critical analysis can be found in Peter Erickson, "June Jordan," in Black Sister II: Poetry by Black American Women, 1746-1980 (1981), edited by Erlene Stetson; and Erickson, "The Love Poetry of June Jordan" in Callaloo (Winter 1986). □

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Jordan, June 1936–2002

Jordan, June 1936–2002

(June Meyer Jordan, June Meyer)

PERSONAL: Born July 9, 1936, in New York, NY; died of breast cancer, June 14, 2002, in Berkeley, CA; daughter of Granville I. (a postal clerk) and Mildred Maude Jordan; married Michael Meyer, 1955 (divorced, 1965); children: Christopher. Education: Attended Barnard College, 1953–57, and University of Chicago, 1955–56. Politics: "Politics of survival and change." Religion: "Egalitarian."

CAREER: Poet, essayist, novelist, editor, and author of children's books. Assistant to Frederick Wiseman, producer of motion picture The Cool World, New York, NY, 1964; Mobilization for Youth, Inc., New York, NY, associate research writer in technical housing department, 1965–66; City College of the City University of New York, English and literature faculty, 1966–68, assistant professor of English, 1975–76, then writer-in-residence; Connecticut College, New London, CT, English faculty and director of Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge (SEEK Program), 1967–69; Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, literature faculty, 1969–74; State University of New York at Stony Brook, NY, associate professor, 1978–82, professor of English, 1982–89, director of Poetry Center and creative writing program, 1986–89; University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, professor of Afro-American studies and women's studies, 1989–93, professor of Afro-American studies, 1994–2002, founder and director of Poetry for the People program, 1991–2002. Visiting poet-in-residence, MacAlester College, 1980; writer-in-residence, City College of the City University of New York; visiting poet, State University of New York at Stonybrook; playwright-in-residence, 1987–88, poet-in-residence, 1988, New Dramatists, New York, NY; poet-in-residence, Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, 1988; poet-in-residence, Swarthmore College, 2001; writer-in-residence, University of Pennsylvania, 2001; artist-in-residence, New York University, 2002. Visiting lecturer in English and Afro-American studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT, 1974–75; Reed Lecturer, Barnard College, New York, NY, 1976; chancellor's distinguished lecturer, University of California, Berkeley, 1986; visiting professor in department of Afro-American studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, summer, 1988. Has given poetry readings in schools and colleges around the country and at the Guggenheim Museum. Founder and codirector, Voice of the Children, Inc. (creative writing workshop for children); cofounder, Afro-Americans against the Famine, beginning 1973. Member of board of directors, Teachers and Writers Collaborative, Inc., beginning 1978, and Center for Constitutional Rights, beginning 1984; member of board of governors, New York Foundation for the Arts, beginning 1986.

MEMBER: National Coalition for Land Reform, American Civil Liberties Union, Poets and Writers (former member of board of directors), PEN American Center (former member of executive board), American Writers Congress.

AWARDS, HONORS: Prix de Rome Environmental Design Award, American Academy in Rome, 1970–71; Architectural Design Award, American Institute of Architecture, for a joint proposal for the African Burial Ground in New York, NY; Best Young Adult Books selections, American Library Association, 1970, for Soulscript, 1971, for His Own Where; National Book Award finalist, and New York Times Outstanding Young Adult Novels selection, both 1971, both for His Own Where; Nancy Bloch Award, 1971, for The Voices of the Children; Children's Books of the Year selection, Child Study Association of America, and Notable Children's Trade Book, National Council for Social Studies and Children's Book Council, both 1975, both for New Life: New Room; New York Council of the Humanities award, 1977; Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, 1980, for His Own Where; award for international reporting, Association of Black Journalists, 1984; Massachusetts Council for the Arts award, 1985, for essay "On the Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry, or Something Like a Sonnet for Phillis Wheatley"; Nora Astorga Leadership award, 1989; PEN West Freedom to Write Award, 1991; Ground Breakers-Dream Makers Award, Women's Foundation (San Francisco, CA), 1994; Lila Wallace Writers Award, Reader's Digest, 1995; Critics Award and Herald Angel Award, Edinburgh Arts Festival, 1995, for I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky; President's Certificate of Service and Contribution to the Arts, Harvard University, 1997; Students' Choice Louise Patterson African American Award, University of California, Berkeley, 1998, for outstanding African American faculty; Lifetime Achievement Award, National Black Writers' Conference, 1998; Writer for Writers' Award, Poets & Writers, 2002. Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship for creative writing, 1969–70; Yaddo fellowship, 1979; Creative Artists Public Service Program poetry grant, 1978; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1982; New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in poetry, 1985; MacDowell Colony fellowship, 1987.

WRITINGS:

FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS

Who Look at Me (poetry; for young adults), Crowell (New York, NY), 1969.

(Editor, with Terri Bush) The Voice of the Children (poetry anthology; for young adults), Holt (New York, NY), 1970.

His Own Where (young adult novel), Crowell (New York, NY), 1971.

Dry Victories (nonfiction; for young adults), Holt (New York, NY), 1972.

Fannie Lou Hamer (biography; for young adults), illustrated by Albert Williams, Crowell (New York, NY), 1972.

New Life: New Room (picture book), illustrated by Ray Cruz, Crowell (New York, NY), 1975.

Kimako's Story (picture book), illustrated by Kay Bur-ford, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1981.

POETRY; FOR ADULTS

(Editor) Soulscript: Afro-American Poetry (anthology), Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1970.

Some Changes, Dutton (New York, NY), 1971.

Poem: On Moral Leadership as a Political Dilemma (Watergate, 1973), Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1973.

New Days: Poems of Exile and Return, Emerson Hall (New York, NY), 1973.

Okay Now, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1977.

Things That I Do in the Dark: Selected Poetry, Random House (New York, NY), 1977, revised edition, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1981.

Passion: New Poems, 1977–1980, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1980.

Living Room: New Poems, 1980–1984, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 1985.

High Tide—Marea Alta, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1987.

Lyrical Campaigns: Selected Poems, Virago Press (London, England), 1989.

Naming Our Destiny: New and Selected Poems, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Haruko/Love Poetry: New and Selected Love Poems, Virago Press (London, England), 1993, published as Haruko: Love Poems, High Risk Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Kissing God Good-Bye: New Poems, 1991–1997, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor) Soulscript: A Collection of African American Poetry, Harlem Moon (New York, NY), 2004.

Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan, edited by Jan Heller Levi and Sara Miles, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2005.

PLAYS

In the Spirit of Sojourner Truth, produced at Public Theatre, New York, NY, May, 1979.

For the Arrow that Flies by Day (staged reading), produced at the Shakespeare Festival, New York, NY, April, 1981.

Freedom Now Suite, music by Adrienne B. Torf, produced in New York, NY, 1984.

The Break, music by Adrienne B. Torf, produced in New York, NY, 1984.

The Music of Poetry and the Poetry of Music, music by Adrienne B. Torf, produced in New York, NY, and Washington, DC, 1984.

Bang Bang über Alles, music by Adrienne B. Torf, produced in Atlanta, GA, 1986.

I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky (opera libretto; music by John Adams; produced at Lincoln Center, New York, NY), Scribner (New York, NY), 1995.

NONFICTION

Civil Wars: Selected Essays, 1963–80 (autobiographical essays), Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1981, revised edition, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.

On Call: Political Essays, 1981–1985, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1985.

Bobo Goetz a Gun, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1985.

Moving towards Home: Political Essays, Virago Press (London, England), 1989.

Technical Difficulties: African American Notes on the State of the Union, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Affirmative Acts: Political Essays, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Soldier: A Poet's Childhood (memoir), Basic Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays of June Jordan, Basic/Civitas Books (New York, NY), 2002.

OTHER

Also author of The Issue. Work represented in numerous anthologies, including Double Stitch: Black Women Write about Mothers and Daughters, edited by Patricia Bell-Scott, Harper, 1992. Contributor of stories and poems (prior to 1969 under name June Meyer) to national periodicals, including Esquire, Nation, Evergreen, Partisan Review, Negro Digest, Harper's Bazaar, Library Journal, Encore, Freedomways, New Republic, Ms., American Dialog, New Black Poetry, Black World, Black Creation, Essence, and to newspapers, including Village Voice, New York Times, and New York Times Magazine. Author of column "The Black Poet Speaks of Poetry," American Poetry Review, 1974–77; regular columnist for the Progressive, 1989–97; contributing editor for Chrysalis, First World and Hoo Doo.

ADAPTATIONS: Audio adaptations include June Jordan Reading Her Poems, Library of Congress Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, 1974 and 1979; Things That I Do in the Dark, Spoken Arts, 1978; I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, Nonesuch, 1998; Collaboration, featuring the music and poetry of Adrienne B. Tory and Jordan, 2001; and Soldier, Recorded Books, 2001. Kissing God Goodbye was adapted for stage, and performed in Vienna, Austria, London, England, Zurich, Switzerland, Belgium, and Rome, Italy.

SIDELIGHTS: African-American poet, novelist, and playwright June Jordan wrote for all ages, but her concern for children, especially African-American children, always stood out in her work. In terms of writing for young adults, she is well known for His Own Where, a novel offering hope for those who live in poverty; but Jordan has also created distinguished poetic work for children, including Who Look at Me. In addition to aiming some of her own writings at young readers, Jordan has made efforts to help children write, leading workshops for African-American and Hispanic youngsters and editing a collection of some of their work with Terri Bush in The Voice of the Children.

Jordan was born July 9, 1936, in Harlem, New York. She had a difficult childhood and was often beaten by her father. She recalled in Civil Wars: Selected Essays, 1963–80 that "for a long while during childhood I was relatively small, short, and, in some other ways, a target for bully abuse. In fact, my father was the first regular bully in my life and there were many days when my uncle pounded down the two flights of stairs in our house to grab the chair, or the knife, or whatever, from my father's hands." But Jordan also has positive memories of her childhood; for example, she recorded this memory of what influenced her to become a writer: "My mother carried me to the Universal Truth Center [a church] on 125th Street, every Sunday, before we moved from Manhattan. I must have been two years old, or three, when the distinctive belief of that congregation began to make sense to me: that 'by declaring the truth, you create the truth.' In other words, if you lost your wallet you declared, 'There is no loss in Divine Mind'—and kept looking. Those words, per se, possessed the power to change the facts; the wallet would turn up again." She summarized: "Early on, the scriptural concept that 'in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God'—the idea that the word could represent and then deliver into reality what the word symbolized—this possibility of language, of writing, seemed to me magical and basic and irresistible."

Jordan began writing as a child. She told Alexis De Veaux in an interview for Essence: "I was good at writing quick rhymes and things and the kids around me accepted it. It was not anything my peers considered weird. I would write things for them that they wanted to give to somebody, whether it was a love note or a putdown." Though her family had exposed her to poetry at an early age, she was not encouraged in her ambition of becoming a poet. As she remarked to De Veaux: "My father wanted me to grow up to be a doctor; my mother wanted me to marry one. Being a poet did not compute for them."

For most of her high school years, Jordan's parents sent her to a prep school where she was the only black student. Her teachers encouraged her interest in poetry, but did not introduce her to the work of any black poets. After high school Jordan enrolled in Barnard College in New York City. Though she enjoyed some of her classes and admired many of the people she met, she described her years there in Civil Wars this way: "No one ever presented me with a single Black author, poet, historian, personage, or idea, for that matter. Nor was I ever assigned a single woman to study as a thinker, or writer, or poet, or life force. Nothing that I learned, here, lessened my feeling of pain and confusion and bitterness as related to my origins: my street, my family, my friends. Nothing showed me how I might try to alter the political and economic realities underlying our Black condition in white America." Because of this feeling of dissatisfaction, Jordan left Barnard without graduating.

In 1955, when Jordan married, interracial marriages faced great opposition. Looking back on her younger self and that of her now ex-husband, Jordan wrote about the experience of her interracial marriage in her On Call: Political Essays, 1981–1985: "Thinking only about what to wear, exactly, or what reading to pack on the honeymoon trip they couldn't afford and about brand new sleeping bags, those two kids quietly did something against the law, against every tradition, against the power arrangements of this country: they loved each other." Characterizing the opposition they and couples like them met, Jordan recalled: "When two people do something the rest of us don't like or some of us feel real nosy about, then the rest of us interpose ourselves in any way we can. We call out the law. We produce experts. We maintain an attitude. We ostracize. We whisper. We develop jargon such as Interracial Marriage or Sleeping White or Niggah Lover or Identity Conflict or Acting Out or Patterns of Rebellion. And if possible, we kill them, the ones who love each other despite sacrosanct rules of enmity and hatred."

Despite their love, Jordan and her husband divorced after ten-and-a-half years, and she was left to support their son. At about the same time, Jordan's career began to take off. During the early 1960s she worked as a production assistant for the documentary film The Cool World. Becoming interested in the way environmental changes could improve the lives of low income Black families, she began working with R. Buckminster Fuller on possible beneficial architectural designs. She began teaching at the City College of the City University of New York in 1966, and in 1969 she published her first book of poetry, Who Look at Me. Aimed at young readers, the book was originally a project of famed black poet Langston Hughes, who died before completing much substantial work on it. Jordan was urged to go on with it, and she did. Who Look at Me uses Black English poetry to describe several paintings of black Americans, prints of which are included in the book. Jordan feels strongly about the use of Black English in this and many other of her books, seeing it as a way to keep black community and culture alive, among many other positive things. Thus at about the same period in her life, she encouraged black youngsters to write in that idiom in conducting her writing workshops for black and Puerto Rican children. With Terri Bush, she edited a collection of her young pupils' writings, The Voice of the Children; she also edited Soulscript: Afro-American Poetry.

Jordan's 1971 novel for young adults, His Own Where, is also written in Black English. But here she expresses her interests in environmental design in this book about a sixteen-year-old black boy, Buddy, and his younger girlfriend, Angela, who try to create a world of their own in an abandoned house near a cemetery. Jordan explained her feelings about the book to De Veaux: "Buddy acts, he moves. He is the man I believe in, the man who will come to lead his people into a new community." Jordan continued: "All of the concepts suggested in His Own Where were governed by the principle that they should really be possible." Some of Jordan's other work for young people has not been as hopeful. In Dry Victories, two boys discuss the achievements of Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but conclude that not much has been gained. The author has also written picture books for children. New Life: New Room concerns the adjustments of a black family to a new baby, and Kimako's Story was inspired by the young daughter of Jordan's friend, fellow writer Alice Walker.

Although Jordan has not written specifically for young readers since Kimako's Story was published in 1981, she explores her own formative years in Soldier: A Poet's Childhood. Jordan describes here the first twelve years of her life, when she learned to be a "good little soldier," under the severe tutelage of her father who drove her to be strong and smart, to appreciate beauty, but often at the cost of a beating. Jordan explained her goal for the book in an interview with Elizabeth Farnsworth available on the Web site Online NewsHour: "I wanted to honor my father, first of all, and secondly, I wanted people to pay attention to a little girl who is gifted intellectually and creative, and to see that there's a complexity here that we may otherwise not be prepared to acknowledge or even search for, let alone encourage, and to understand that this is an okay story … a story, I think, with a happy outcome." Jordan further commented in an Essence interview: "My father was very intense, passionate and over-the-top. He was my hero and my tyrant." Critics responded favorably to the emotional intensity of Jordan's story and her ability to tell it from the consciousness of a child, without judgment or analysis of the experience. Written "in the flowing language of a prose poem," observed Booklist critic Stephanie Zvirin, Soldier is "a haunting coming-of-age memoir."

In an interview on Alternative Radio, Jordan was asked what she sees as the role of the poet in society. Jordan replied: "The role of the poet, beginning with my own childhood experience, is to deserve the trust of people who know that what you do is work with words." She continued: "Always to be as honest as possible and to be as careful about the trust invested in you as you possibly can. Then the task of a poet of color, a black poet, as a people hated and despised, is to rally the spirit of your folks." The author also noted: "I have to get myself together and figure out an angle, a perspective, that is an offering, that other folks can use to pick themselves up, to rally and to continue or, even better, to jump higher, to reach more extensively in solidarity with even more varieties of people to accomplish something. I feel that it's a spirit task."

In Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays of June Jordan, which was published the same year of the author's death from breast cancer, Jordan presents thirty-two essays that appeared in previous collections, as well as eight new essays. The essays examine a wide range of topics, from sexism, racism, and Black English to trips the author made to various places, the decline of the U.S. educational system, and the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001. Writing for Lambda Book Report, Samiya A. Bashir called the new essays "fiery" and commented that the author was "called 'our premiere Black woman essayist' by longtime friend and former editor, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison." Bashir added that the collection provides "evidence of … [the author's] indomitable spirit." Noting that the author writes about homosexuality as well as her own bisexuality, Bashir went on to write: "In the essay, 'A Couple of Words on Behalf of Sex (Itself),' Jordan moved beyond the ethereal beauty of love in defense of the concrete beauty of sexual experience and desire. In typically humorous style she decried the increasing demonization of sexuality and sexual desire." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote: "Some of the stronger pieces here … address the vast complex of injustice that is contemporary American life."

Published posthumously in 2005, Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan includes various poems published from 1969 through 2001, including many of her final poems that discuss her battle with cancer. Janet St. John, writing in Booklist, declared the book "a must-read for those wanting to learn and be transformed by Jordan's opinions and impressions." A Publishers Weekly contributor remarked on the author's "verbal power and … commitment to justice."

In an obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, Annie Nakao wrote that the author "left a mountain of literary and political works." Nakao added: "As I discov-ered soon enough when I picked up a June Jordan work, its contents could shout, caress, enrage. The thing it never did was leave you unengaged." In an article of appreciation in the Los Angeles Times following the author's death, Lynell George explained how the author "spent her life stitching together the personal and political so the seams didn't show." George further stated that throughout her life the author "continued to publish across the map, swinging form to form as the occasion or topic demanded. Through poetry, essays, plays, journalism, even children's literature, she engaged such topics as race, class, sexuality, capitalism, single motherhood and liberation struggles around the globe."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

American Women Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 10, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 114, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 38: Afro-American Writers after 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.

Jordan, June, Civil Wars: Selected Essays, 1963–80, revised edition, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.

Jordan, June, Soldier: A Poet's Childhood, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Muller, Lauren, editor, June Jordan's Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, Routledge (New York, NY), 1995.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

PERIODICALS

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 7, 2000, Valerie Boyd, review of Soldier, p. L15.

Austin Chronicle, August 25, 2000, Craig Arnold, review of Soldier.

Black Issues Book Review, September, 2000, Samiya A. Bashir, review of Soldier, p. 32.

Booklist, February 15, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Kissing God Goodbye: Poems 1991–96, p. 1102; April 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Soldier, p. 1461; September 1, 2005, Janet St. John, review of Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan, p. 43.

ColorLines, winter, 1999, Julie Quiroz, "'Poetry Is a Political Act': An Interview with June Jordan."

Essence, April, 1981, Alexis De Veaux, "Creating Soul Food: June Jordan"; September, 2000, Alexis De Veaux, "A Conversation with June Jordan," p. 102.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays of June Jordan, p. 933.

Lambda Book Report, October, 2002, Samiya A. Bashir, review of Some of Us Did Not Die, p. 28.

Library Journal, October 1, 2004, Michael Rogers, review of Soulscript: A Collection of African American Poetry, p. 121.

Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2000, Merle Rubin, review of Soldier, p. E3; June 20, 2002, Lynell George, "An Appreciation: A Writer Intent on Rallying the Spirit of Survival; Poet June Jordan Cast a Penetrating Eye on Issues Both Political and Personal," p. E1.

Ms., June-July, 2000, R. Erica Doyle, review of Soldier, p. 82.

New York Times, July 4, 2000, Felicia R. Lee, "A Feminist Survivor with the Eyes of a Child," review of Soldier, p. B1.

Publishers Weekly, May 8, 2000, review of Soldier, p. 218; July 8, 2002, review of Some of Us Did Not Die, p. 42; June 27, 2005, review of Directed by Desire, p. 54.

ONLINE

Alternative Radio, http://www.alternativeradio.org/ (March 24, 2006), David Barsamian, "June Jordan: Childhood Memories, Poetry & Palestine."

June Jordan Home Page, http://junejordan.com (March 24, 2006).

Online NewsHour, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/ (March 26, 2006), Elizabeth Farnsworth, "A Conversation with June Jordan."

OBITUARIES:

PERIODICALS

Guardian (London, England), June 20, 2002, p. 20.

Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2002, p. B19.

New York Times, June 18, 2002, p. A23.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 27, 2002, Annie Nakao, "June Jordan—in Your Face and in Our Hearts," p. D12.

Washington Post, June 16, 2002, p. C8.

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