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June Jordan: a profile

Written by Comment

June Jordan was a poet, writer, journalist and teacher. Jordan’s work spoke passionately about subjects such as race, bisexuality, inequality and feminism just to name a few. She is well known for her activism in political movements for civil rights, gender equality and racial equality. Her courageous efforts have formed her a legacy consisting of multiple honours and awards from universities, LGBTQ communities and other associations.

Jordan was born July 9 1963, in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican immigrant parents. In her work such as Civil Wars (1981), she explains the ups and downs of her childhood. From a young age Jordan was a target for bullies, her father being one of them. Yet pleasant memories of her childhood were writing and reading poetry. When Jordan was five she moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York, a predominantly black urban area. During this time she attended Northfield Mount Hermon School where the majority of the students were white. This made Jordan aware that there was a problem with racial segregation and conflict. After graduating from Northfield Mount Hermon she enrolled into Barnard College where she met Michael Meyer. Although interracial marriages at the time were frowned upon, the couple went against the norms and married in 1955. Ten and a half years later they divorced leaving Jordan to support their son just as she was launching her writing career.

Throughout Jordan’s career, gender, race, sexuality and other categories of identity were key topics that were at the core of her writing. She also focused a lot of her content around the use of Black English and its importance of expression for her culture. While teaching at institutions such as Yale University and the University of California Berkley, she published various works – Who Look at Me (1969), Technical Difficulties (1993) and Some of Us Did Not Die (2003) just to name a few. She was not afraid to point out the problem of Western Colonial mentality. Her writing, especially in the essay ‘Report from the Bahamas’ in Some of Us Did Not Die, argues that it is not just about race, class or gender that defines a common identity between people, but what we know and what we can do for each other that will determine this connection. This would later lay down the foundations to intersectional feminism, making Jordan’s writing innovatory.

Her political and social activism also took up a large part of her career. Jordan went against the social norms by declaring herself bisexual even though at the time the bisexual, gay and lesbian communities faced a lot of opposition. As well as being active in movements for anti-war and civil rights.

Jordan’s efforts received a legacy of honours and awards. In June 2019, to showcase Jordan’s leadership in paving the road for liberation for the LGBTQ people, her name was placed on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honour in New York. Some other honours and awards include National Association of Black Journalists (1984), Ground Breakers-Dream Makers Award from The Woman’s Foundation (1994) and a congressional citation for her activism.

Last modified: 9th October 2019

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