June Jordan Collection Opens for Research

Courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard UniversityCourtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
By Marilyn Morgan, Manuscript Cataloger

"Politics is power. Language is political." When June Jordan (1936–2002) wrote those words in her manuscript "Black English: The Politics of Translation" in 1973, she was establishing her reputation as an essayist and poet. Within 20 years, she had published more than two dozen books and become one of the most prolific and outspoken African American writers ever. She dedicated her life and her gift to fighting for human rights.

The Schlesinger Library acquired the papers of this activist and author in 2003 with the generous assistance of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. The large collection contains a wealth of rare documents, including personal and professional correspondence; drafts of poetry, novels, essays, and plays; audio recordings of readings; and hundreds of photographs.

The drafts Jordan penned represent some of the most interesting items in the collection. Initially, she painstakingly composed nearly every poem and essay by hand on yellow legal pads. Researchers reading the drafts alongside her personal correspondence will be able to see how events in her life influenced her writing.

Jordan's voluminous correspondence reflects her involvement with a wide variety of issues, including equitable housing, racial equality, black English, power, abuse against women, breast cancer, American foreign policy, and lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights. She exchanged letters with other award-winning writers, artists, and activists—R. Buckminster Fuller, E. Ethelbert Miller, Adrienne Rich, and Alice Walker—over decades, providing a rare glimpse into their private lives.

Jordan's letters also document her creative struggles as a writer and a woman of color. They provide insight into her personal relationships, sometimes bisexual or interracial, as well as her role as an African American mother and daughter. One item, a scrapbook that Mildred Jordan began on the day that June, her only child, was born, illuminates the hopes this Jamaican immigrant, who struggled with depression, held for her infant daughter.

The processing of this collection, made possible by the generosity of Susan Fales-Hill '84 (in memory of her mother, Josephine Premice Fales, and in honor of her father, Captain Timothy Fales '52), began two years ago. Most of the collection (some portions are restricted) will be open for research this summer and a finding aid will be posted on- line and freely accessible worldwide as part of Harvard's Online Archival Search Information System (OASIS).


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