June Jordan: Author, educator, and activist
For June Jordan, poetry was a political act that involved telling the world the truth.
Moreover, throughout her life and through all of her works, Jordan boldly fought for freedom and against oppression as she explored and embraced every aspect of her identity as a black bisexual woman living in the US.
June Jordan’s background and education
June Millicent Jordan was born on July 9, 1936 to Jamaican immigrant parents in Harlem, New York.
Although she may have had a difficult childhood, an exacting relationship with her father, and in some ways was a target for bullying, Jordan also had positive memories of her years growing up especially during the time she began to write.
While attending predominantly white schools like the eite Northfield School in New England and Bernard College in New York, Jordan was able to establish herself as a black American and developed as a writer.
In 1955, June Jordan married Michael Meyer, a white Columbia University student.
While Meyer pursued his graduate studies in anthropology at the University of Chicago, Jordan also enrolled there before going back to Barnard where she remained until 1957.
She and her husband divorced in 1965, leaving her to support their son.
June Jordan as an acclaimed author
Jordan’s first published book was a collection of poems for children about black identity in white America entitled Who Look at Me (1969), followed by 27 more books in her lifetime.
Her early poems focused on multicultural and multiracial reality in America as published in the journals Negro Digest, Black World, and her second volume, Some Changes (1971).
Her other published works include: New Day: Poems of Exile and Return (1974), Things That I Do in the Dark (1977), Passion (1980), Naming Our Own Destiny (1989), Haruko/Love Poetry (1993), and Kissing God Goodbye (1997).
Aside from publishing poems for children and teens, she was also an essayist and lyricist for musicians by writing librettos for operas.
Likewise, as a journalist published widely in magazines and newspapers around the world, she was a regular columnist for The Progressive, a monthly magazine on politics and culture.
In 2000, June Jordan published her memoir, Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood, where she depicted in detail her formative years and her sometimes abusive relationship with her father.
June Jordan as an educator
In 1967, June Jordan began her teaching career at the City College of New York.
She went on to teach at Yale University and Sarah Lawrence College, and became an English professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she directed The Poetry Center.
As a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, she founded the influential poetry program “Poetry For the People” in 1991 as a way to inspire and empower students to use poetry as a means of artistic expression.
Jordan’s experiences as an educator and her practical, day-by-day, classroom failures and successes further shaped this program.
In 1995, she published June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint that contained three guideline points that embodied the program and a set of her students’ writings.
June Jordan as an activist
Lastly, Jordan was active in the civil rights, feminist, antiwar, and gay and lesbian rights movements, even as she provided a voice for marginalized communities and the oppressed.
Her works like her personal essay, Report from the Bahamas (1982), reflected the challenges and difficulties regarding race, class, and gender identity.
Aside from being passionate and committed to human rights and progressive political agenda, Jordan also wrote about sexual freedom. She viewed freedom as being unpredictably free to choose, from her causes to her own sexuality.
She wrote about homosexuality and revealed her own bisexuality in some of her writings like “A Couple of Words on Behalf of Sex (Itself)” in Some of Us Did Not Die, Collected and New Essays (2003) and “Poem for Annie Topham” in Directed by Desire (2005).
“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?” she wrote.
On June 14, 2002, Jordan died of breast cancer at her home in Berkeley, California at the aged of 65.