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June Millicent Jordan (9 July 1936 – 14 June 2002) was an African-American bisexual political activist, writer, poet, essayist, and teacher, born in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican immigrants.
- Our earth is round, and, among other things, that means that you and I can hold completely different points of view and both be right. The difference of our positions will show stars in your window I cannot even imagine. Your sky may burn with light, while mine, at the same moment, spreads beautiful to darkness. Still we must choose how we separately corner the circling universe of our experience. Once chosen, our cornering will determine the message of any star and darkness we encounter. These poems speak to philosophy; they reveal the corners where we organize what we know.
- Introduction to the "Corners on the Curving Sky" section of the book Soulscript (1970) compiled by Jordan. These lines have been widely published in verse format as work misattributed to Gwendolyn Brooks, usually as a poem titled "Corners on the Curving Sky." One website indicated that Brooks had publicly repudiated the attribution of these lines to her, but the misattribution seems to have long remained largely unrecognized.
- We are the ones we have been waiting for.
- "Poem for South African Women", Passion (1980)
- I wanted to be strong. I never wanted to be weak again as long as I lived. I thought about my mother and her suicide and I thought about how my father could not tell whether she was dead or alive.
I wanted to get well and what I wanted to do as soon as I was strong, actually, what I wanted to do was I wanted to live my life so that people would know unmistakably that I am alive, so that when I finally die people will know the difference for sure between my living and my death.
And I thought about the idea of my mother as a good woman and I rejected that, because I don't see why it's a good thing when you give up, or when you cooperate with those who hate you or when you polish and iron and mend and endlessly mollify for the sake of the people who love the way that you kill yourself day by day silently.
And I think all of this is really about women and work. Certainly this is all about me as a woman and my life work. I mean I am not sure my mother’s suicide was something extraordinary. Perhaps most women must deal with a similar inheritance, the legacy of a woman whose death you cannot possibly pinpoint because she died so many, many times and because, even before she became my mother, the life of that woman was taken; I say it was taken away.
- "Many Rivers To Cross" (1981); later published in Some of Us Did Not Die : New and Selected Essays of June Jordan (2002)
- I am working for the courage to admit the truth that Bertolt Brecht has written; he says, "It takes courage to say that the good were defeated not because they were good, but because they were weak."
I cherish the mercy and the grace of women’s work. But I know there is new work that we must undertake as well: that new work will make defeat detestable to us. That new women’s work will mean we will not die trying to stand up: we will live that way: standing up.
I came too late to help my mother to her feet.
By way of everlasting thanks to all of the women who have helped me to stay alive I am working never to be late again.
- "Many Rivers To Cross" (1981)
- If any of us hopes to survive, s/he must meet the extremity of the American female condition with immediate and political response. The thoroughly destructive and indefensible subjugation of the majority of Americans cannot continue except at the peril of the entire body politic.
- "The Case for the Real Majority" (1982), from Moving Towards Home: Political Essays (1989)
- Revolution always unforlds inside an atmosphere of rising expectations.
- "America in Confrontation with Democracy, or, the Meaning of the Jesse Jackson Campaign" in Technical Difficulties (1988)
- As a child I was taught that to tell the truth was often painful. As an adult I have learned that not to tell the truth is more painful, and that the fear of telling the truth — whatever the truth may be — that fear is the most painful sensation of a moral life.
- "Life After Lebanon" (1984), later published in On Call : Political Essays (1985), and Some of Us Did Not Die : New and Selected Essays of June Jordan (2002)
- 1. “The People” shall not be defined as a group excluding or derogating anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, language, sexual preference, class, or age.
2. “The People” shall consciously undertake to respect and to encourage each other to feel safe enough to attempt the building of a community of trust in which all may try to be truthful and deeply serious in the messages they craft for the world to contemplate.
3. Poetry for the People rests upon a belief that the art of telling the truth is a necessary and a healthy way to create powerful, and positive, connections among people who, otherwise, remain (unknown and unaware) strangers. The goal is not to kill connections but, rather, to create and to deepen them among truly different men and women.
- General rules for the "Poetry for the People" program she founded at the University of Berkeley in 1991, as quoted in June Jordan : Her Life and Letters (2006) by Valerie Kinloch, Ch. 6 : Affirmative Acts: Political Essays, p. 123
- most of the women of the world-Black and First World and white who work because we must-most of the women of the world persist far from the heart of the usual Women's Studies syllabus. Similarly, the typical Black History course will slide by the majority experience it pretends to represent. For example, Mary McLeod Bethune will scarcely receive as much attention as Nat Turner, even though Black women who bravely and efficiently provided for the education of Black people hugely outnumber those few Black men who led successful or doomed rebellions against slavery. In fact, Mary McLeod Bethune may not receive even honorable mention because Black History too often apes those ridiculous white history courses which produce such dangerous gibberish as The Sheraton British Colonial "history" of the Bahamas. Both Black and white history courses exclude from their central consideration those people who neither killed nor conquered anyone as the means to new identity, those people who took care of every one of the people who wanted to become "a person," those people who still take care of the life at issue: the ones who wash and who feed and who teach and who diligently decorate straw hats and bags with all of their historically unrequired gentle love: the women.
- Some of Us Did Not Die (2003)
Black Studies: Bringing Back The Person (1969)
- Originally published in Evergreen Review, October 1969
- Page numbers refer to republication in Civil Wars: Observations from the Front Lines of America (1981)
- Body and soul, Black America reveals the extreme questions of contemporary life, questions of freedom and identity: How can I be who I am?
- p. 46
We, we know the individuality that isolates the man from other men, the either/or, the lonely-one that leads the flesh to clothing, jewelry, and land, the solitude of sight that separates the people from the people, flesh from flesh, that jams material between the spirit and the spirit. We have suffered witness to these pitiful, and murdering, masquerade extensions of the self.
Instead, we choose a real, a living enlargement of our only life. We choose community.
- p. 47
- Efficiency, competence: Black students know the deadly, neutral definition of these words. There seldom has been a more efficient system for profiteering, through human debasement, than the plantations, of a while ago. Today, the whole world sits, as quietly scared as it can sit, afraid that, tomorrow, America may direct its efficiency and competence toward another forest for defoliation, or clean-cut laser-beam extermination.
- p. 47
- We are among those who have been violated into violence.
- p. 48
- In America, the traditional routes to black identity have hardly been normal. Suicide (disappearance by imitation, or willed extinction), violence (hysterical religiosity, crime, armed revolt), and exemplary moral courage; none of these is normal.
- p. 48
- Education has paralleled the life of prospering white America: it has been characterized by reverence for efficiency, cultivation of competence unattended by concern for aim, big white lies, and the mainly successful blackout of Black life.
- p. 49
Quotes about June Jordan
- Sorted alphabetically by author or source
- June Jordan, who has died aged 65, after suffering from breast cancer for several years, defied all pigeonholes. Poet, essayist, journalist, dramatist, academic, cultural and political activist — she was all these things, by turn and simultaneously, but above all, she was an inspirational teacher, through words and actions, and a supremely principled person. …Her life was about challenging oppression, and her characteristic talent was the ability to lay bare through her writing "the intimate face of universal struggle". … For Toni Morrison, the sum of June Jordan's career was: "Forty years of tireless activism coupled with and fueled by flawless art." All that aside, she was a joy to know.
- At the library I would go the shelves alphabetically. I was drawn to anyone with a female name, with a Latino or Spanish name. There were very, very few. But as a teenager I discovered African American poetry. Gwendolyn Brooks was the first. Then Phillis Wheatley. I really identified with this slave woman writing poetry to assert and affirm her humanity. Suddenly my eyes were open to history. There was a whole explosion of African-American women poets-Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan. I have a poem in my head that's going to take me years to write down. Its working title is "On Thanking Black Muses." I owe them, because poetry really changed my life, saved it.
- Lorna Dee Cervantes Interview in Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft by Bill Moyers (1999)
- I learned a lot from the black arts movement. I loved reading black feminist thinkers on my own (outside of academia)—Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Angela Davis, June Jordan, bell hooks, etc.
- Marilyn Chin Interview with Asian Review of Books (2020)
- I have realized that I was in danger of losing my relationship to black vernacular speech because I too rarely use it in the predominantly white settings that I am most often in, both professionally and socially. And so I have begun to work at integrating into a variety of settings the particular Southern black vernacular speech I grew up hearing and speaking. It has been hardest to integrate black vernacular in writing, particularly for academic journals. When I first began to incorporate black vernacular in critical essays, editors would send the work back to me in standard English. Using the vernacular means that translation into standard English may be needed if one wishes to reach a more inclusive audience. In the classroom setting. I encourage students to use their first language and translate it so they do not feel that seeking higher education will necessarily estrange them from that language and culture they know most intimately. Not surprisingly, when students in my Black Women Writers class began to speak using diverse language and speech, white students often complained. This seemed to be particularly the case with black vernacular. It was particularly disturbing to the white students because they could hear the words that were said but could not comprehend their meaning. Pedagogically, I encouraged them to think of the moment of not understanding what someone says as a space to learn. Such a space provides not only the opportunity to listen without "mastery," without owning or possessing speech through interpretation, but also the experience of hearing non-English words. These lessons seem particularly crucial in a multicultural society that remains white supremacist, that uses standard English as a weapon to silence and censor. June Jordan reminds us of this in On Call.
- bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994)
- June Jordan, who has been a touchstone of mine, really, since I first read her work in college, which was many, many years ago. So I really can't believe that I'm here today, and I'm really grateful to be here with all of you to celebrate her legacy and her life. June Jordan loved Black people, and so do I. She was an educator, and so am I. She was an activist; so am I. She was an internationalist, and so am I. She was a brilliant writer, and I am not-at all...She insisted that by organizing, we have the power to overcome oppression. I too believe this to be true.
- Mariame Kaba, We Do This Til We Free Us (2021)
- Aren't we blessed that June Jordan is one of the ancestors who we can call on and hear her voice to keep us centered in this current stormy weather? What can we hear from her in this moment? I think that love is a requirement of principled struggle, both self-love and love of others, that we must all do what we can, that it is better to do something rather than nothing, that we have to trust others as well as ourselves. I often repeat the adage that "hope is a discipline." We must practice it daily. June's work teaches us this truth.
- Mariame Kaba, We Do This Til We Free Us (2021)
- Today's mic-hogging, fast-talking, contentious young (and old) lefties continue to hawk little books and pamphlets on revolution, always with choice words or documents from Marx, Mao, even Malcolm. But I've never seen a broadside with "A Black Feminist Statement or even the writings of Angela Davis or June Jordan or Barbara Omolade or Flo Kennedy or Audre Lorde or bell hooks or Michelle Wallace, at least not from the groups who call themselves leftist. These women's collective wisdom has provided the richest insights into American radicalism's most fundamental questions: How can we build a multiracial movement? Who are the working class and what do they desire? How do we resolve the Negro Question and the Woman Question? What is freedom?
- Robin Kelley Freedom Dreams (2002)
- As we move toward empowerment, we face the other inseparable question, what are we empowering ourselves for? In other words, how do we use this power we are reaching for? We can't separate those two. June Jordan once said something which is just wonderful. I'm paraphrasing her-that her function as a poet was to make revolution irresistible. Well o.k. that is the function of us all, as creative artists, to make the truth, as we see it, irresistible. That's what I want to do with all of my writing.
- 1990 interview in Conversations with Audre Lorde (2004
- We are hungry for heroes. To paraphrase June Jordan, we are the women whom we want to become.
- 1988 interview in Conversations with Audre Lorde (2004)
- In this era of counter-revolution and its deadly effects, we can be discouraged into silence or reduced to caring only about our immediate, personal world. Or we can, as I heard poet June Jordan say at a conference in Arizona, fight back against "those pistol-packing gatekeepers of a house that never belonged to them in the first place." That sounds better! And let's remember: there would be no counter-attack today if we hadn't made some significant changes yesterday.
- Elizabeth Martinez De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century (2017)
- She (Rosario Morales) taught me to love the women: Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, Virginia Woolf, and later we would trade the titles of new books on the phone: Doris Lessing, Agnes Smedley, Charlotte Bronte's Shirley, June Jordan, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker.
- Aurora Levins Morales Getting Home Alive (1986)
- In political journalism that cuts like razors, in essays that blast the darkness of confusion with relentless light; in poetry that looks as closely into lilac buds as into death’s mouth … she has comforted, explained, described, wrestled with, taught and made us laugh out loud before we wept. … I am talking about a span of forty years of tireless activism coupled with and fueled by flawless art.
- Toni Morrison, as quoted in "June Jordan" at the June Jordan School For Equity
- A few years ago, there was the first collection ever published of political essays written by a Black woman-June Jordan. Think about that. It's amazing there are so few.
- 1987 interview in Conversations with Toni Morrison edited by Danille K. Taylor-Guthrie (1994)
- June Jordan’s poetry embraces a half-century in which she dwelt as poet, intellectual, and activist: also as teacher, observer, and recorder. In a sense unusual among twentieth-century poets of the United States, she believed in and lived the urgency of the word — along with action — to resist abuses of power and violations of dignity in — and beyond — her country.
- Adrienne Rich, in her foreword to Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (2005)
- She believed, and nourished the belief, that genuine, up-from-the-bottom revolution must include art, laughter, sensual pleasure, and the widest possible human referentiality. She wrote from her experience in a woman's body and a dark skin, though never solely "as" or "for." Sharply critical of nationalism, separatism, chauvinism of all kinds as tendencies toward narrowness and isolation, she was too aware of democracy's failures to embrace false integrations. Her poetic sensibility was kindred to Blake's scrutiny of innocence and experience; to Whitman's vision of sexual and social breadth; to Gwendolyn Brooks's and Romare Bearden's portrayals of ordinary black people's lives; to James Baldwin's expression of the bitter contradictions within the republic...She knew many poetries, ancient and modern; her sonnets, for example, are both silken and surprising. But in her preface to the collection Passion, she matched herself consciously most incisive essays from the last two decades with the tradition of "New World poetry," non-European, deriving in North America from Whitman, and including "Pablo Neruda, Agostinho Neto, Gabriela Mistral, Langston Hughes, Margaret Walker and Edward Brathwaite."
- Adrienne Rich A Human Eye (2009)
- I also want to read, and make, poems that remind me "why it must come," why what June Jordan calls the logic of "the infinite connectedness of human life" demands equality in community. This poetry is worth our most sacred and profane passion, because it embodies our desire, what we might create, in the difficult world around the poem.
- Adrienne Rich Arts of the Possible (2001)
- June Jordan makes us think of Akhmatova, of Neruda. She is the bravest of us, the most outraged. She feels for all. She is the universal poet.
- Let us imagine the prospect-for the first time in the nation's history-of a population united for fundamental change. Would the elite turn as so often before, to its ultimate weapon-foreign intervention-to unite the people with the Establishment, in war? It tried to do that in 1991, with the war against Iraq. But, as June Jordan said, it was "a hit the same way that crack is, and it doesn't last long."
- Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States
- June Jordan Official Website
- June Jordan profile at the Poetry Foundation
- June Jordan poems at the Academy of American Poets
- Audio Interview with Jordan
- PBS New York Writers Link
- June Jordan Papers, 1936-2002. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
- Audio collection of June Jordan, 1970-2000. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
- Jordan, June, 1936-2002. Videotape collection of June Jordan, 1976-2002. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
- "June Jordan, 65, Poet and Political Activist" by Dinitia Smith, in The New York Times (18 June 2002)
- Obituary : "June Jordan" by Margaret Busby in The Guardian (20 June 2002)
- Bombastically critical review and rewrite : "This Old Poem #3: June Jordan's April 10, 1999 by Dan Schneider (6 July 2002)
- "Bisexuals Worthy of Celebration During Black History Month: June Jordan" by Faith Cheltenham, The Huffington Post (24 February 2013)
- Poets from the United States
- Activists from the United States
- Women activists
- LGBT rights activists
- Essayists from the United States
- Novelists from the United States
- Memoirists from the United States
- Women authors
- Academics from the United States
- Educators from the United States
- African Americans
- Feminists from the United States
- Women from the United States
- 1936 births
- 2002 deaths
- LGBT people
- People from New York City
- Women born in the 20th century