Authors: June Jordan

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Identity: African American

Author Works

Poetry:

Some Changes, 1971

New Days: Poems of Exile and Return, 1974

Things That I Do in the Dark: Selected Poetry, 1977

Passion: New Poems, 1977-1980, 1980

Living Room: New Poems, 1985

Bobo Goetz a Gun, 1985

Lyrical Campaigns: Selected Poems, 1989

Naming Our Destiny: New and Selected Poems, 1989

Haruko/Love Poems: New and Selected Love Poems, 1993 (pb. in the U.S. as Haruko: Love Poems, 1994)

Kissing God Goodbye: Poems, 1991-1997, 1997

Long Fiction:

His Own Where, 1971

Drama:

In the Spirit of Sojourner Truth, pr. 1979

For the Arrow That Flies by Day, pr. 1981

Bang Bang Über Alles, pr. 1986 (libretto; music by Adrienne B. Torf)

I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, 1995 (libretto and lyrics; music by John Adams)

Nonfiction:

Civil Wars, 1981

On Call: Political Essays, 1985

Moving Towards Home: Political Essays, 1989

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

Affirmative Acts: Political Essays, 1998

Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood, 2000

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Who Look at Me, 1969

His Own Where, 1971

Fannie Lou Hamer, 1972

Dry Victories, 1972

New Life: New Room, 1975

Kimako’s Story, 1981

Biography

June Jordan is generally considered one of the most significant political poets who emerged during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in the United States. The only child of Jamaican-born parents, she was born in Harlem. When she was five years old her family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, where she grew up. Jordan’s mother belonged to the Universal Truth Center, a Harlem-based organization, and her father was an Episcopalian. Their religious practices gave the poet a sense of the importance of language and a moral foundation that informs much of her work. Her relationship with her parents was difficult, however; her father was physically abusive, and her mother was not supportive of her. Jordan’s mixed feelings about her parents echo throughout her poetry, which often deals with social, racial and sexual power inequities.{$I[AN]9810001803}{$I[A]Jordan, June}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Jordan, June}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Jordan, June}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;Jordan, June}{$I[tim]1936;Jordan, June}

June Jordan

Jordan attended Barnard College on a full scholarship while still living at home in Brooklyn. Before that, she had attended an all-white girls’ preparatory school, also on a full scholarship. At Barnard, she intensively studied poetic forms. She also fell in love with and married Michael Meyer, a young white man attending Columbia University. One semester short of a B.A. in English at Barnard, Jordan left school to support her husband while he completed his studies. Their son, Christopher, was born in 1958. Throughout these years Jordan wrote prolifically, despite making her husband and child her main priorities.

After the marriage ended in the 1960’s, Jordan began studying urban planning with R. Buckminster Fuller, and she worked as assistant to the producer on a film called The Cool World (1963). She became involved in the Civil Rights movement, gave many poetry readings in New York’s public schools, taught a writing workshop for young children in Brooklyn and Harlem, and worked as a freelance writer. For three years she was a research associate and writer for the Technical Housing Department of Mobilization for Youth in New York City. In 1967 she began her college teaching career at the City College of New York.

Jordan’s poetry embraces a unifying aesthetic that emerged in the 1960’s among political black poets, a style characterized by a vertical rhythm structure, accessible language, and a collective consciousness. Her first adult poetry collection, Some Changes, is filled with examples of this aesthetic. Before she published this collection, however, she was commissioned to write Who Look at Me, intended for a young audience, a meditation on what it means to be black in America. Jordan has written other books for children and teenagers, most notably His Own Where, a love story that manages to illustrate urban design principles, written entirely in Black English (a dialect common in urban black communities that frequently drops conjugations of the verb “to be”).

In admiration of His Own Where, Fuller nominated Jordan for the Prix de Rome in Environmental Design, which she was awarded. She went to Rome planning to conduct a density study on multiple uses of urban space, but instead she wrote a long series of poems about the Roman steps and conceptualized a novel with the working title “Okay Now” about land reform in Mississippi.

Jordan taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Yale University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In 1989 she became a professor of English and African American studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her political activities included work for the Center for Constitutional rights, Artists Against Apartheid, and MADRE, a women’s peace network linking U.S. and Central American women. She was also very vocal on behalf of Palestinians ejected from their land by Israeli occupation and wrote many essays and poems on this subject.

Jordan’s work shows an impressive poetic range; she wrote angry poems concerning political and personal injustices, funny poems, and nature poems. While much of her work is written in free verse, she sometimes uses formal structures such as sonnets. She wrote quickly, often drafting essays and poems while traveling by plane from one speaking engagement to another, but revised her work extensively. His Own Where, she said, was drafted in one weekend. Anger about social injustice fueled much of her writing, but she also tapped a gentler vein in herself by writing love poems.

Another genre Jordan explored was playwriting. In collaboration with composer Adrienne Torf, she wrote Bang Bang Über Alles, which focuses on a group of artists who defy the Ku Klux Klan. Later she collaborated with composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars on another musical production, I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, which also deals with racial and sexual issues. Jordan died of cancer in 2002.

BibliographyBrogan, Jacqueline V. “From Warrior to Womanist: The Development of June Jordan’s Poetry.” In Speaking the Other Self: American Women Writers, edited by Jeanne Campbell Reesman. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997. Traces Jordan’s growth as a poet, concentrating on her life as a political and social activist.Brown, Kimberly N. “June Jordan.” In Contemporary African American Novelists: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, edited by Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. A useful reference entry in a book devoted to African American writers.Erickson, Peter. “The Love Poetry of June Jordan.” Callaloo 9, no. 1 (Winter, 1986): 221-234. Discusses the poems in Passion, in particular those selected later for Things I Do in the Dark. Claims that attention to Jordan’s activist, political poetry has unjustly overshadowed her powerful love poetry.MacPhail, Scott. “June Jordan and the New Black Intellectuals.” African American Review 33, no. 1 (1999): 57-71. Analysis of the political side of Jordan’s writing career.
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