NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 53

At a New York book party celebrating the work of Henry Dumas, I would meet this outspoken poet. By this time, June Jordan was already a woman with a strong moral vision. She was willing to comment and offer clarity on a variety of issues: From the Middle East to Nicaragua; from Black English to bisexuality. During her lifetime, Jordan was not just a poet; she was the author of five children’s books, a novel, three plays, books of essays, and a memoir. On July 9, 1936, June Jordan was born in Harlem. She would die on June 14, 2002, in Berkeley, California. She would not send a poem out for publication, until she was 29. While attending Barnard College, June would consider writing in Spanish, claiming at that time the language seemed more amenable to what she wanted to say. Her first book, Who Look at Me, was published in 1969, when she was 33. I think of these facts as a way of better understanding this woman’s beginnings. She did not rush early into public creativity. When it comes to the importance of love and passion in her thought, her body of work can be separated into nine categories, with some overlapping: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. The Middle East Black Studies and Black English Fight against cancer Prison and Police Violence International Affairs Bisexuality New York (Harlem and Brooklyn) Love Poems Humor In 2006, Valerie Kinloch published the biography, June Jordan: Her Life and Letters. Kinloch’s book provides background information about June’s West Indian heritage, her childhood, and her relationship with her mother and father. Even though June had a complex — if not complicated — relationship with her parents, when she accepted the 1998 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Conference of Black Writers, presented at The Fourteenth Annual Celebration of Black Writing in Philadelphia, she began by saying: This award is an incredible capstone to my personal history. And on this occasion, I wish to thank my mother and father by accepting it on their behalf. Two more faithful human beings have seldom walked this earth. And I would like to acknowledge, with loving gratitude, the decades of support and counsel I have received from the black poet, E. Ethelbert Miller. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE It was Toni Morrison, who told us (Ahmos Zu-Bolton and [me]) to fix the chairs, since we were early at the Random House affair. We were insulted, but we did as we were told. The evening was young, and there was no reason for someone to give us a black eye and spoil our trip. The stars would come out, and Ahmos and I would watch them enter the room: Melvin Van Peebles, Angela Davis, Nikki Giovanni; and then there she was, the woman poet I had heard about, the woman whose work Stephen Henderson said was “heavy” language and saturated with blackness. She came into the room, and Sun Ra was behind her. It was how he always opened a performance. The Sun Goddesses, beautiful women walking the stage showing the audience the way to Egypt and the next stop being Jupiter. Sun Ra coming behind, his genius a light for those who had ears. Looking back many years later, this first meeting seems almost mystical. 51 PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF © CHESTER HIGGINS JR/CHESTERHJIGGINS.COM When I was writing my memoir, Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2001), one of the first sections I wrote was about meeting June Jordan. I wanted to write about her first, because she had a significant influence on my development as a writer. She wrote the introduction to Season of Hunger/ Cry of Rain, one of my early collections of poems. Jordan was my model of the activist and writer. Her politics are tightly woven into a sensual compassion for human life. Her work retains a lyrical quality enhanced by her understanding of black speech. We met in 1974. I was 24 years old, and she was 38. Here is an excerpt from my memoir: