Born on this day in 1936, Caribbean-American poet and
activist, June Jordan would have celebrated her 81st birthday today!
Having written over two dozen books in her lifetime, June vocally identified as
bisexual in both her literary and activism work.
A young June Jordan smiles away from the camera, circa 1970 (x).
Born on July 9, 1936 in Harlem, New York, June was the only
child of Jamaican immigrants. Her father was a postal worker and her mother worked
as a part-time nurse. In her work, June often deals with the dissonance of her
childhood; her father frequently beat her and was emotionally abusive, but he
was also the main person in her life who encouraged her to read and write. For
this reason, she began writing poetry at the early age of 7. After graduating
from Northfield Mount Hermon School in 1953, June began studying at Barnard College.
Later in life she would regret the fact that she had been “completely immersed
in a white universe” during her academic career.
The 1969 book Who Look
at Me, a collection of poetry for children, was June’s very first published
work. She published 27 more books throughout her life, including more poetry collections,
fiction novels, feminist philosophy essays, and her 2000 memoir Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood. Her first
full-fledged novel, His Own Where,
was nominated for the National Book Award in 1971. June also began a teaching
career in 1967 when she began working at City College of New York. She would go
on to teach literature at several other prestigious institutions such as Yale,
Sarah Lawrence, and UC Berkeley.
Today, June Jordan is remembered as one of the most beloved black feminist and black bisexual writers (x).
While she was in college, June met a Columbia University
student named Michael Meyer. The two were married in 1955 and had a son,
Christopher, three years later, but would eventually divorce in 1965. She would
later come out as bisexual and write much about the importance of
intersectionality between sexuality, gender, and race in one’s social activism.
One of June’s iconic quotes reads,
“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? If you are free, you are not
predictable and you are not controllable. To my mind, that is the keenly
positive, politicizing significance of bisexual affirmation… to insist upon
the equal validity of all the components of social/sexual complexity.”
June’s last published work was a collection of political
essays titled Some Of Us Did Not Die,
which wasn’t published until after her death. On June 14, 2002, June passed
away from breast cancer complications at the age of 65. The June Jordan School
for Equity (JJSE) was founded in San Francisco after her death and continues her lifelong fight for social equality.