June Jordan biography
Born on July 9, 1936, in Harlem, New York, June Jordan established a prolific career as a poet, essayist and novelist with works of verse like Who Look at Me and Naming Our Destiny, the novel His Own Where and the non-fiction collection Some of Us Did Not Die. Jordan was also a revered teacher at several universities, becoming a global voice for marginalized communities. She died in Berkeley, California, on June 14, 2002.
Background and Education
June Millicent Jordan was born on July 9, 1936, in Harlem, New York, to parents who immigrated to the United States from Jamaica. Growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, she had a sometimes harsh childhood, with her father admired by Jordan yet at times abusive. Her mother was seen as a generally passive presence who killed herself when Jordan was still in her teens.
A writer from her youth, Jordan attended the Northfield School for Girls, a prep school located in Massachusetts, and went on to study at Barnard College. She married Michael Meyer, a Columbia University student, in the mid-1950s. Jordan then attended the University of Chicago, where Meyer was focusing on graduate anthropology studies, before going back to Barnard. The interracial couple had a son, Christopher David Meyer, who went on to work in environmental law.
Jordan continued to develop her craft as a writer and also worked with James Farmer and the Congress of Racial Equality. She and her husband divorced in 1965, with Jordan cultivating a career as a teacher with the City University of New York. She later taught at other prestigious institutions and became head of the poetry center at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in the mid-'80s. By the end of the decade, she was teaching at the University of California, Berkeley.
Jordan was a prolific author as well who penned more than two dozen books across a variety of genres. She made her full-length book debut with Who Look at Me (1969), a collection of poetry in African-American English alongside art; other works of verse over the years included Things That I Do in the Dark (1977), Passion (1980), Haruko/Love Poetry (1993) and Kissing God Goodbye (1997).
She authored the young adult novel His Own Where (1971), which was nominated for a National Book Award, as well as a 1972 biography on Fannie Lou Hamer. She also served as editor for the poetry anthology Soulscript (1970) and crafted essay collections and works for the stage, collaborating with the likes of John Coolidge Adams. In 2000 she published her memoir, Soldier: A Poet's Childhood.
Activism and Legacy
Speaking to a need to survive and carve a place for herself in a world that could be unjust, Jordan also used her writing and teaching to provide a voice for others who have been oppressed, highlighting important issues around race, gender, sexuality (Jordan herself was bisexual) and Third World politics in a host of published formats. She received many accolades and awards, including Prix de Rome funding, a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and a National Endowment of the Arts fellowship.
She also established the community program Poetry for the People at UC Berkeley.
Jordan died at the age 65 in Berkeley, California, on June 14, 2002, from breast cancer. The Poetry Foundation has provided a comprehensive list of June Jordan's literary contributions.