Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In 1981, June Jordan published her first collection of essays, Civil Wars: Selected Essays 1963-1980, a pioneering volume described by the publisher as the first book of political essays to be published by a black woman in the United States. Perhaps best known as a poet and anthologist/critic, Jordan has also been very active politically as a commentator, teacher, organizer, and witness. Despite her national reputation, she never had the kind of forum available to political writers who were less critical of conventionally accepted ideas and policies. “If political writing by a Black woman did not strike so many editors as presumptuous or simply bizarre,” she wrote in 1985, “I might regularly appear, on a weekly or monthly schedule, as a national columnist.” Instead, she published her work in periodicals sympathetic to the challenging or unconventional view, magazines such as The Village Voice in New York City and The Progressive in Madison, Wisconsin.

Even with these forums available, Jordan’s second collection, On Call: Political Essays (1985), and Technical Difficulties contain essays that were not published previously. She explained the necessity for these collections by saying that books “must compensate for the absence of a cheaper and more immediate” print outlet and emphasized the need “to pose our views in the realm of public debate” as the major impetus behind her books. In such comments, against what she describes as an “American censorship” that she identifies as the restrictions imposed by all the positions of power across the political spectrum, she sees herself as “a dissident American poet and writer” who is determined to work toward the betterment of “my country, my home.” Explaining further that her politics are an expression of “my entire real life,” she asserts that nothing in her writing or thinking “reflects any orthodox anything” and lists as the goal of her work “my political efforts to coherently fathom all of my universe, and to arrive at a moral judgement that will determine my further political conduct.”

The essays gathered in Technical Difficulties were written between 1986 and early 1992 and express Jordan’s extremely critical judgments about the direction of governmental policy and social expectancy during that time. Continuing the coverage of the issues of race, gender, and class from her previous collections, Jordan combines reflections on her own experiences as a single parent, a professional African American writer and educator, and a person gradually discovering all the dimensions of her sexuality. Her reportorial technique employs statistics, factual information, and a carefully developed, logical argumentation to present a powerful, openly personal perspective on the “State of the Union.” As she did in her earlier essays, Jordan juxtaposes essays on the virtues of American democracy in theory and practice, often concentrating on exemplary people whose lives exhibit these qualities in action, with the worst examples of what she considers to be the most serious impediments to the realization of these...

(The entire section is 1292 words.)