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literature

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Jordan, June (1939-2002)  

In both her poetry and her essays, June Jordan called for the rejection of stereotypical views of bisexuality, and she associated sexual independence with political commitment.

Born on July 9, 1936, in Harlem to Jamaican immigrants, June Jordan grew up in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Her childhood in one of the largest black urban areas in the country, coupled with her three high school years at a predominantly white preparatory school, gave Jordan an early understanding of racial conflicts.

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She attended Barnard College, where she met and married Michael Meyer, a white Columbia University student who shared her political beliefs. Divorced after eleven years, Jordan continued studying architectural design and working as a free-lance political journalist to support herself and her son.

Her broad-based inclusive politics were significantly influenced by her work in 1964 with visionary architect Buckminster Fuller, her mother's suicide in 1966, her meetings with Fannie Lou Hamer in 1969, and her travels to Nicaragua in the 1980s.

She began her teaching career in 1967 at the City College of New York and also taught at Connecticut College, Sarah Lawrence, and Yale; in 1989, she became a professor of African-American studies at University of California, Berkeley, and began writing a political column for The Progressive magazine. She has received a number of awards and fellowships, including a Rockefeller Grant, the Prix de Rome in Environmental Design, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a National Association of Black Journalists Award.

Although primarily known for her poetry, Jordan wrote essays, plays, novels, and musicals. The title of her 1989 collection of new and previously published poems, Naming Our Destiny, succinctly describes her ethical vision, as well as a central theme in her work: the importance of individual and collective self-determination.

This dual emphasis on personal and communal autonomy, coupled with the belief that her own self-determination entails recognizing and affirming the interconnections between herself and apparently dissimilar peoples, gives Jordan's work an aggressive optimism and a diversity that grow increasingly complex in her later writings.

Throughout her work, she explored multiple personal, national, and international issues, including her relationships with female and male lovers, , Black English, racial violence in Atlanta, South African apartheid, and the Palestinian crisis.

Given the opposition bisexuals have received from both heterosexual and lesbian and gay communities, Jordan's willingness to identify herself openly as bisexual established an extremely important precedent. Her most radical statement can be found in "A New Politics of Sexuality" (in Technical Difficulties, 1993), where she calls for a "new, bisexual politics of sexuality."

In addition to rejecting the stereotypical views of bisexuals, she associates sexual independence with political commitment and maintains that homophobia and heterosexism do not represent "special interest" concerns or secondary forms of oppression less important than racism or sexism. Indeed, she suggests that sexual oppression is perhaps the most deeply seated form of human conflict.

Jordan enacted her bisexual politics in "A Short Note to My Very Critical Friends and Well-Beloved Comrades," "Meta-Rhetoric," "Poem for Buddy," and other poems in Naming Our Destiny, where she rejected restrictive labels and exclusionary political positions based on sexuality, color, class, or nationality.

On June 14, 2002, June Jordan died of breast cancer.

AnnLouise Keating

     

    
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    Bibliography
   

Erickson, Peter. "The Love Poetry of June Jordan." Callaloo 9 (1986): 221-234.

_____. "State of the Union." Transition 59 (1992): 104-109.

Harjo, Joy. "An Interview with June Jordan." High Plains Literary Review 3 (1988): 60-76.

Parmar, Prathiba. "Black Feminism: the Politics of Articulation." Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. Jonathan Rutherford, ed. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990. 101-127.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Keating, AnnLouise  
    Entry Title: Jordan, June  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated January 2, 2003  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/jordan_j.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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