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June Jordan



“Bisexuality means I am free and I am as likely to want to love a woman as I am likely to want to love a man, and what about that? Isn’t that what freedom implies?

If you are free, you are not predictable and you are not controllable. To my mind, that is the keenly positive, politicizing significance of bisexual affirmation... to insist upon the equal validity of all the components of social/sexual complexity.”

Poet and social activist June Jordan was born in Harlem, and grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Educated at Barnard College and the University of Chicago, she published her first book of poems, Who Look at Me , in 1969. Her first novel, His Own Where, was nominated for the National Book Award in 1971. She published dozens of books of poetry, children’s books, an opera libretto, and a series of political columns for the Progress. Her writing reflected a life-long commitment to the celebration of Black English as a poetic medium.

Jordan came to UC Berkeley in 1986 as a lecturer in the Department of English, and at the time of her death was Professor of African American Studies. She founded and was the director of Poetry for the People, a course which engaged undergraduate students in marathon poetry readings. She was a recipient of the PEN Center USA West Freedom to Write Award and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Lectureship, and in the Fall of 2000 the Poetry for the People program was awarded a Chancellor’s Recognition Award for Community Partnership for it outreach efforts to local high schools, churches and prisons.

Throughout her life, Jordan insisted on the importance of recognizing interconnections among all struggles for freedom, equality and human dignity. At the 1997 National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum’s annual conference, she challenged her audience to look beyond issues of sexual orientation:

What is the moral meaning of who we are? Let’s suppose we know who we are as Black and Gay or Lesbian or Bisexual human beings and then.... What about that? How does any facet of your, or my, identity intersect, for instance, with the fact that the average grade level of Black elementary or high school children happens to be a D+? That’s the situation in Oakland, California. What about that?

Does our sexual or racial identity compel an activist intersection with such a horrifying status quo or not? Is it sexual or racial identity that will catapult each of us into creative agency for social change? I would say, I hope so. But also, I do not believe that who you are guarantees anything important about what you choose to mean in the context of others’ lives....

As long as there are Gay and Lesbian Americans who view sexuality as the first and last defining facet of their existence, and who, therefore, do not defend immigrants against the savagery of xenophobic hatred, as long as there are Gay and Lesbian Americans who view sexuality as the first and last defining fact of their lives, then for that long I am not one with you and you are not one with me.

Shortly before her death from breast cancer she published Some of Us Did Not Die, a collection of political essays. In it she describes how her early marriage to a white student while at Barnard immersed her in the racial turmoil of America in the 1950s, and set her on the path of social activism:

That confrontation with heavyweight intolerance carried me through our Civil Rights Revolution and into our resistance to the War Against Vietnam and then into the realm of gender and sexual and sexuality politics. And those strivings, in aggregate, carried me from Brooklyn to Mississippi, to South Africa, to Nicaragua, to Israel, to Palestine, to Lebanon and to Northern Ireland, and every single one of those embattled baptisms clarified pivotal connections among otherwise apparently disparate victories, or among apparently disparate events of suffering and loss.

Read More About It

  • June Jordan. Kissing God Goodbye: Poems, 1991-1997 (New York : Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1997)
  • ------. Soldier: a Poet’s Childhood (New York : Basic Civitas Books, 2000)
  • ------. Affirmative Acts: Political Essays (New York : Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1998)
  • Alexis Deveaux, “Creating Soul Food: June Jordan,” Essence, 11 April 1981, p. 82.
  • June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: a Revolutionary Blueprint / edited by Lauren Muller and the Poetry for the People Collective (New York : Routledge, 1995)

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