A campus memorial service is tentatively scheduled
for September, said Charles Henry, professor and chair
of UC Berkeley's African American Studies. There will
be no formal funeral service, he said.
Jordan became one of the most published African American
writers, known for reviving black English as a medium
of black literature. She published dozens of books
of poetry, librettos and operas, children's books,
a screenplay, and gutsy and eloquent columns about
political and personal causes in "The Progressive"
and other publications.
"She used black English in a way that brought out
the poetry in American speech," said Zack Rogow, director
of the UC Berkeley Lunch Poems series, a senior editor
at the campus's Graduate School of Education, a poet
and one of Jordan's longtime friends.
Ishmael Reed, a senior lecturer in UC Berkeley's
English Department as well as a novelist, poet, essayist
and magazine editor, described the June Jordan poem
as "straightforward, unadorned, in-your-face. No poems
about blackberries here."
"I never knew anyone so fearless in defending what
she believed in," said Charles Altieri, a professor
of English at UC Berkeley and director of the campus's
Consortium for the Arts. "She had
this amazing combination of personal sweetness and
political ferocity. And she had the ability to cut
to the core of any issue."
Born in Harlem to parents who were immigrants from
the West Indies - her mother was a nurse, her father
a postal worker - Jordan grew up in a Brooklyn, New
York, ghetto. She attended Barnard College and the
University of Chicago, but never earned a degree.
In 1966, she became a poet-in-residence at Teachers
& Writers Collaborative and then taught on the English
faculties at Connecticut and Sarah Lawrence colleges
before joining the English Department at Yale University
in 1974. Jordan came to UC Berkeley as a lecturer
in 1986, remaining there until her death at her Berkeley
home last Friday (June 14). She taught in the departments
of English, African American Studies and Women's Studies.
She was committed to numerous issues, ranging from
black women's health to Palestinian rights, and to
her students, earning a nickname of "the universal
woman." In one of her courses, "The Politics of Childhood:
UC Berkeley Students Redefine Abuse," the class formed
a student group to inform others about children's
rights and to help children resist abuse.
"She brought the same passion and energy to her teaching
as she did to writing, so her presence among us was
an enormous gift," said UC Berkeley English professor
and former U.S. Poet Laureate Bob Hass.
An extremely versatile writer, her published books
include the autobiography "Soldier: a Poet's Childhood"
(1999), "Lyrical Campaigns: Selected Political Essays"
(1989), and "Kissing God Goodbye" (1997). She and
California political activist Angela Davis were the
subjects of an English TV documentary, "A Place of
"She did everything with a kind of fire that was
just like no other person that I ever met," said Rogow.
"She just cared very, very deeply about the state
of the world and the people she was close to."
As a professor of African American studies at UC
Berkeley, Jordan founded and directed "Poetry for
the People," a course in which 150 undergraduates
participate in marathon poetry readings before large
audiences. They also study the poetry of African Americans,
Arabs and Arab Americans and many other groups Jordan
considered generally overlooked in the classroom.
"June Jordan was one of the most popular professors
on campus," said Reed. "Like a Renaissance master,
she had more than a following. She had a school. For
her, every student was a star, and they were not merely
A publisher compiled an anthology of poems by Jordan's
students, something Reed said is unheard of because
of the general assumption that poetry is created by
Jordan awed listeners when she performed poetry readings
on university campuses, before the United Nations
and United States Congress, as well as at the Folger
Shakespeare Library, Walker Arts Center, Guggenheim
Museum, New York Public Library and on National Public
"She was an amazing reader, one of the most dramatic
and charismatic readers I've ever heard," said Rogow,
who met Jordan 1974 while he was at Yale University,
looking for a faculty adviser for his senior thesis.
She also helped him at graduate school, and Rogow
said he probably would not have become a poet without
"She cared about every line break and every comma
in my poems, and made me care about it," Rogow recalled.
The many honors Jordan received included a special
Congressional recognition for her outstanding contributions
to literature, the UC Berkeley Citation, the American
Institute of Architecture Award for the African Burial
Grounds Project and Harvard University's President's
Certificate of Service and Contribution to the Arts.
Jordan also earned the PEN Center USA West Freedom
to Write Award and Ground Breakers-Dream Makers Award
by The Women's Foundation of San Francisco.
Longtime friend Carolyn Porter, a UC Berkeley professor
of English, called Jordan "equal parts creativity
and courage, making the two into one. And her capacity
for moral outrage was only equaled by her capacity
for sheer joy when something went right -- as when
South Africa was at last free. For June, there was
no distinction between personal and public -- the
liberation of a nation was as joyful an event for
her personally as was the liberation of a friend,
whether from illness or grief. She had a spirit of
insuperable power. She also had an illimitable well
of laughter. She had a distinctive laugh. It fused
a giggle with a squeal with a belly laugh."