June Jordan

A photograph of June Jordan

June Jordan was a powerhouse poet, activist, journalist, and educator. One of the most widely-published and highly-acclaimed writers of her time, Jordan was active in the civil rights, feminist, antiwar, and gay and lesbian rights movements. Through her poetry, essays, plays, and children’s literature, she spoke passionately about race, class, sexuality, and political struggles around the world.

Jordan was born in Harlem in 1936, the child of Jamaican immigrants who raised her in Bedford-Stuyvesant. A gifted student, she began writing poetry in elementary school. She attended boarding school in New England, where her teachers encouraged her writing but never shared the work of any Black writers with her. After earning a BA from Barnard College, Jordan began teaching at the City College of New York in 1966. She published her first book of poetry, Who Look at Me, in 1969. She went on to teach at Yale University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, before becoming Professor of African-American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she founded Poetry For the People.

Jordan’s essays were published in magazines and newspapers around the world. She also published more than twenty-five major works of poetry, fiction, and children’s books before her death in 2002. In an interview shortly before her death, Jordan said that “the task of a poet of color, a black poet, as a people hated and despised, is to rally the spirit of your folks…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.”

Jordan’s books of poetry include the collections Kissing God Goodbye: Poems, 1991-1997, Haruko/Love Poems, Naming Our Destiny, Living Room: New Poems 1980-1984, and Things That I Do in the Dark. Her essay collections include Affirmative Acts: Political Essays, June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, Technical Difficulties, and Civil Wars: Selected Essays 1963-1980.

You can access several online, full text works by Jordan in the City Tech Collection, including:

Life as Activism: June Jordan’s Writings from the Progressive

Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays of June Jordan.

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