June Jordan Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

The essence of June Millicent Jordan’s life reveals itself in her poetry and in her autobiographical writings, in particular in Civil Wars (1981) and her memoir Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood. She was born in Harlem, to Granville, a Panamanian immigrant, and Mildred, her Jamaican mother. When she was five years old, her parents moved to Brooklyn, and Jordan began her education by commuting to an all-white school. She later attended Northfield School for Girls, a preparatory school in Massachusetts.

Her introduction to poetry came through her father, who forced her to read, memorize, or recite the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare, the Bible, the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, and the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as the novels of Sinclair Lewis and Zane Grey. At the age of seven, she began to write poetry herself. Unfortunately, her father’s pedagogical methods also included beatings for unsatisfactory performance, but Jordan never questioned his love for her, affirming that he had the greatest influence on her poetic and personal development, having given her the idea that “to protect yourself, you try to hurt whatever is out there.” Jordan’s mother, who committed suicide in 1966, did not oppose her father’s harsh treatment of her, and Jordan found this passivity harder to forgive than her father’s brutality.

Her interest in poetry was developed at Northfield but was limited mainly to white male poets “whose remoteness from my...

(The entire section is 614 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

June Jordan is generally considered one of the most significant political poets who emerged during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in the United States. The only child of Jamaican-born parents, she was born in Harlem. When she was five years old her family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, where she grew up. Jordan’s mother belonged to the Universal Truth Center, a Harlem-based organization, and her father was an Episcopalian. Their religious practices gave the poet a sense of the importance of language and a moral foundation that informs much of her work. Her relationship with her parents was difficult, however; her father was physically abusive, and her mother was not supportive of her. Jordan’s mixed feelings about her parents echo throughout her poetry, which often deals with social, racial and sexual power inequities.

Jordan attended Barnard College on a full scholarship while still living at home in Brooklyn. Before that, she had attended an all-white girls’ preparatory school, also on a full scholarship. At Barnard, she intensively studied poetic forms. She also fell in love with and married Michael Meyer, a young white man attending Columbia University. One semester short of a B.A. in English at Barnard, Jordan left school to support her husband while he completed his studies. Their son, Christopher, was born in 1958. Throughout these years Jordan wrote prolifically, despite making her husband and child her main priorities.

After the marriage ended in the 1960’s, Jordan began studying urban planning with R. Buckminster Fuller, and she worked as assistant to the producer on a film called The Cool World (1963). She became involved in the Civil Rights movement, gave many poetry readings in New York’s public schools, taught a writing workshop for young children in Brooklyn and Harlem, and worked as a freelance writer. For three years she was a research...

(The entire section is 785 words.)