Sunday, October 26, 2014

Out Spotlight

Today's Out Spotlight was an activist, journalist, essayist, educator and celebrated African-American poet. Her commitment to fighting oppression, particularly of women and blacks, was the defining element of her work. Today's Out Spotlight is June Jordan.

Jordan was born July 9, 1936, in Harlem, New York. the only child of Jamaican immigrant parents, Granville Ivanhoe and Mildred Maud Jordan. Her father worked as a postal worker and her mother was a part-time nurse. When Jordan was five, the family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, New York. While life in the Jordan household was often turbulent, Jordan credits her father with passing on to her a love of literature, and she began writing her own poetry at the age of seven.

She described the complexities of her early childhood in her 2000 memoir, Soldier: A Poet's Childhood which she dedicated to her father. In this short memoir Jordan explores her complicated relationship with a man who encouraged her to read broadly and memorize passages of classical texts, but would also beat her for the slightest misstep and called her "damn black devil child".

In her 1986 essay For My American Family Jordan explores the many conflicts to be dealt with in the experience of being raised by black immigrant parents with visions of the future for their offspring that far exceeded the urban ghettos of the present. In Soldier: A Poet's Childhood, Jordan recalls her father telling her "There was a war on against colored people, I had to became a soldier". While grateful to America for allowing him to escape poverty and seek a better life for his family, Jordan's father was conscious of the struggles his daughter would face and encouraged her to fight.

After attending Brooklyn's Midwood high school for a year, Jordan enrolled in Northfield Mount Hermon School, an elite preparatory school in Western Massachusetts. Throughout her education she became "completely immersed in a white universe" by attending predominately white schools, but was also able to construct and develop her identity as a black American and a writer. In 1953, she graduated from high school and enrolled at Barnard College.

Jordan later expressed how she felt about Barnard College in her book Civil Wars, writing: "No one ever presented me with a single Black author, poet, historian, personage, or idea for that matter. Nor was I ever assigned a single woman to study as a thinker, or writer, or poet, or life force. Nothing that I learned, here, lessened my feeling of pain or confusion and bitterness as related to my origins: my street, my family, my friends. Nothing showed me how I might try to alter the political and economic realities underlying our Black condition in white

At Barnard she met Columbia University student, Michael Meyer, whom she married in 1955. Jordan subsequently followed her husband to the University of Chicago, where he would pursue graduate studies in anthropology while enrolled at the university but soon returned to Barnard where she remained until 1957. In 1958 Jordan gave birth to their only child, Christopher David Meyer. The couple divorced in 1965.

Jordan self identified as bisexual in her writing.

Her first book published in 1969, Who Look at Me was a collection of poems for children. 27 more books followed in her lifetime, one (Some of Us Did Not Die, Collected and New Essays) was in press when she died. Two more have been published posthumously: Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan and a re-issue of the 1970 poetry collection SoulScript, edited by Jordan.

In her memoir Soldier: A Poet's Childhood, Jordan depicted in detail her relationship with her father in the book and was happy with the outcome stating, "I wanted to honor my father, first of all, and secondly, I wanted people to pay attention to a little girl who is gifted intellectually and creative, and to see that there's a complexity here that we may otherwise not be prepared to acknowledge or even search for, let alone encourage, and to understand that this is an okay story. This is a story, I think, with a happy outcome, you know". She was also an essayist, columnist for The Progressive, novelist, biographer, and librettist for the musical/opera I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, composed by John Adams and produced by Peter Sellars."

Jordan's teaching career began in 1967 at the City College of New York. Between 1968 and 1978 she taught at Yale University, Sarah Lawrence College, and Connecticut College. Jordan then became the director of The Poetry Center and was an English professor at SUNY at Stony Brook from 1978 to 1989. From 1989 to 2002 she was a full professor in the departments of English, Women Studies, and African American Studies at the University of California Berkeley.

Jordan was known as "the Poet of the People", and at Berkeley, she founded the "Poetry for the People" program in 1991. Its aim was to inspire and empower students to use poetry as a means of artistic expression.

Jordan died of breast cancer at her home in Berkeley, California, aged 65. The June Jordan School for Equity, or JJSE (formerly known as the Small School for Equity) in San Francisco was named after her by the founding group of students who, through a democratic process of research, debate, and voting, chose her over Philip Vera Cruz and Ella Baker.

Shortly before her death, she completed Some of Us Did Not Die, her seventh collection of political essays (and 27th book), which was published posthumously. In it she describes how her early marriage to a white student while at Barnard College immersed her in the racial turmoil of America in the 1950s, and set her on the path of social activism.

Jordan received numerous honors and awards, including a 1969-70 Rockefeller grant for creative writing, a Yaddo Fellowship in 1979, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1982, and the Achievement Award for International Reporting from the National Association of Black Journalists in 1984. Jordan also won the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Writers Award from 1995 to 1998 as well as the Ground Breakers-Dream Makers Award from The Woman's Foundation in 1994.

“To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that’s political, in its most profound way.


prairiegirl said...

Because OMG is like a back up external hard drive, I would like to make record of quite the personal family event - Jake celebrating a child in his life's birthday - his niece's. His endearing, quite personal & shared story as told to Just Jared and published today, Oct. 20 2014:

Jake Gyllenhaal Is a Totally Fun Uncle, Bought His Niece 45 Balloons For Her Birthday!

Jake Gyllenhaal stands behind the scenes while listening to some audio on the set of Demolition on Monday (October 27) in New York City.

On Saturday (October 25,) the 33-year-old actor was a featured speaker at the inaugural Produced By: New York conference at the Time Warner Center in New York City.

Jake recently chatted about being an uncle to Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard‘s two daughters Gloria, 2, and Ramona, 8.

“I try [to spoil my nieces]. I brought so many balloons to my niece’s eighth birthday — I felt really bad. I knew I wasn’t going to be the one taking them home. I literally brought like 45 balloons. My brother in law was like, ‘Thanks,’” Jake told USA Today. “The next day I asked my niece where all the balloons went. She said, ‘They’re everywhere.’”

45 Luftballons

Ramona's 8th birthday? October 3, 24 days ago.

prairiegirl said...

His campaign trail is on overdrive, right now - it's crunch time - election day is merely days away. Tonight it's the NYC premiere and his best buds JayZ and Beyonce stopped to be seen and pose for a pic - you can bet that will be Just Jared post #45 for the past 7 days.

lol. Encore! Encore! This is quite a sidewalk pounding going on

prairiegirl said...

I have to say that I'm glad to have a night off from baseball. It's been too stressful for the last couple of days.

But'll be nailbiting time.

Methodical Muser said...

With Jake so busy channeling Jamie Randall, Austin's preoccupied buying 45 balloons and walking Leo every morning. *grin*