Early Life and Upbringing

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

A prolific poet who merged personal and political concerns, June Jordan exploited a full range of literary genres in addition to poetry. During her career, she published ten volumes of poetry and eighteen volumes of essays, memoirs, and children’s fiction. By turns, her extensive energies were also devoted to journalism, opera, film, teaching, urban planning, and political, linguistic, and feminist activism. As poet and writer Penelope Moffet reported in 1986, it was Jordan’s overriding sense that “politics [is] the duty of an artist.”

That view can be understood in the light of Jordan’s background, for her New York City upbringing in a working-class family and her unique experiences as an educationally privileged African American eventually led her to larger concerns than herself. Of Jamaican ancestry, she was born in Harlem to Granville Jordan and Mildred Jordan on July 9, 1936; the family moved to a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant area when she was five. Both her parents—her father was a postal clerk, her mother a nurse—at times worked nights to help give her advantages.

Frustrated with his own life, her father sometimes beat June physically “to the extent of occasional scar tissue” but also introduced her to literature—notably the Bible and the works of Edgar Allan Poe, William Shakespeare, and Paul Laurence Dunbar—when she was still a young girl. At age seven, Jordan started writing poems herself. Her 1975 essay “Notes of a Barnard...

(The entire section is 613 words.)