Sunday, December 30, 2012

A TRIBUTE TO JAYNE CORTEZ, 1934-2012: Innovative Poet and Performance Artist, Cultural leader, and Revolutionary Activist

JAYNE CORTEZ,  1934-2012

Jayne Cortez 
 Photo Credit: Marcia Wilson


The death of Jayne Cortez at the age of 78 on friday, December 28, 2012 marks the passing of one of the most important, dynamic, and truly innovative figures in American poetry since WW II and one of the most revered, original, and influential poets in the pantheon of African American poetry of the 20th/21st century.  Her singular artistic impact on our collective historical, cultural, and political understanding of how language works to mold and create as well as disfigure and distort our sense of 'reality' and consciousness in the world was the hallmark of an always stylistically fluid and ever mutating use and manipulation of a broad multiplicity of sounds, symbols, rhythms and lyrical forms and structures in service to a powerful literary vision that is deeply informed by various vernacular traditions in African and African American music, writing, and speech as well as various creative and expressive uses of surreality, rituals, and 'magical realism' from Europe, Africa, Asia and (especially) Latin American sources.  In addition, Ms. Cortez mastered these many seemingly disparate modes and styles of writing, orality, and performative art that seamlessly incorporated and extended the musical forms of Jazz, blues, and R & B within an intricate and utterly original method of using language both on and off the page.

Finally, I was personally very fortunate to have known Jayne for many years.  Her great intelligence, strength, kindness, creativity, compassion, humor, and revolutionary CLARITY was always so very helpful, inspiring, and encouraging to me as a young writer finding my way in the world.  I was also able to see and hear Jayne perform her riveting poetry with her terrific legendary ensemble the Firespitters many times over the years which never ceased to be both inspiring and deeply informative. Jayne was an utterly unique and fantastic person and artist whose amazing work and transcendent revolutionary spirit will be sorely missed.  What an ORIGINAL and absolutely mesmerizing force Jayne was!  Like so many others, I will miss her dearly...RIP JAYNE...


Jayne Cortez, Jazz Poet, Dies at 78

David Corio
 Jayne Cortez performing in New York in 1994. Her work was known for its power and outrage. David Corio
January 3, 2013
New York Times

Jayne Cortez, a poet and performance artist whose work was known for its visceral power, its political outrage and above all its sheer, propulsive musicality, died on Dec. 28 in Manhattan. She was 78.

Her death, at Beth Israel Medical Center, was from heart failure, her son, the jazz drummer Denardo Coleman, said.

One of the central figures of the Black Arts Movement — the cultural branch of the black power movement that flourished in the 1960s and ’70s — Ms. Cortez remained active for decades afterward, publishing a dozen volumes of poetry and releasing almost as many recordings, on which her verse was seamlessly combined with avant-garde music.

She performed on prominent stages around the world, including, in New York, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Museum of Modern Art and Carnegie Hall.

Ms. Cortez’s work was beyond category by virtue of embodying so many categories simultaneously: written verse, African and African-American oral tradition, the discourse of political protest, and jazz and blues. Meant for the ear even more than for the eye, her words combine a hurtling immediacy with an incantatory orality.

Starting in the 1960s, Ms. Cortez began performing her work to musical accompaniment. For the past three decades she toured and recorded with her own band, the Firespitters, whose members include her son, from her first marriage, to the saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman.

As performed, Ms. Cortez’s poems were not so much set to music as they were a part of the music. They were chanted more than recited, employing carefully calibrated repetitions, shifts in tempo and modulations of vocal tone.

It was as if her verse, which often took on large, painful subjects like racism and misogyny, had become an instrument itself — an instrument, Ms. Cortez felt strongly, to be wielded in the service of social change.

In one of her best-known works, “If the Drum Is a Woman,” for instance, she indicts violence against women. (The title invokes Duke Ellington’s 1956 composition “A Drum Is a Woman”):

why are you pounding your drum into an insane babble

why are you pistol-whipping your drum at dawn

why are you shooting through the head of your drum

and making a drum tragedy of drums

if the drum is a woman

don’t abuse your drum don’t abuse your drum

don’t abuse your drum

Sallie Jayne Richardson, always called Jayne, was born on the Army base at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., on May 10, 1934. (The year of her birth is often misreported as 1936.) Her father was a career soldier who would serve in both world wars; her mother was a secretary.

Reared in Los Angeles, young Jayne Richardson reveled in the jazz and Latin recordings that her parents collected. She studied art, music and drama in high school and later attended Compton Community College. She took the surname Cortez, the maiden name of her maternal grandmother, early in her artistic career.

In the summers of 1963 and 1964, Ms. Cortez worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, registering black voters in Mississippi. It was this work as much as anything, she later said, that caused her to regard art and political action as an indivisible whole.

She gave her first public poetry readings with the Watts Repertory Theater Company, a Los Angeles ensemble she founded in 1964. Ms. Cortez, who had homes in Manhattan and Dakar, Senegal, was also a founder of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, established in 1991.

Ms. Cortez’s marriage to Mr. Coleman ended in divorce in 1964, after 10 years. Besides her son, she is survived by her second husband, Melvin Edwards, a prominent sculptor whom she married in 1975; a sister, Shawn Smith; three stepdaughters, Ana, Margit and Allma Edwards; and a grandson.

Her volumes of poetry, many illustrated by Mr. Edwards, include “Festivals and Funerals” (1971), “Coagulations” (1984) and “Jazz Fan Looks Back” (2002); her albums include “Everywhere Drums” (1990) and “Taking the Blues Back Home” (1996).

Ms. Cortez, who taught at universities throughout the United States, including Rutgers, was among the artists featured — others include Amiri Baraka, Charles Bukowski, John Cage and Allen Ginsberg — in Ron Mann’s esteemed 1982 documentary film, “Poetry in Motion.”

Despite her work’s eclecticism, Ms. Cortez was comfortable invoking a single genre to describe it, precisely because that genre was itself so encompassing.

“Jazz isn’t just one type of music, it’s an umbrella that covers the history of black people from African drumming to field hollers and the blues,” she told The Weekly Journal, a black newspaper in Britain, in 1997. “In the sense that I also try to reflect the fullness of the black experience, I’m very much a jazz poet.”

January 7, 2013

Jayne Cortez Dead: 

Poet-Performer Dies At 78 
01/05/13 AP

NEW YORK -- Jayne Cortez, a forceful poet, activist and performance artist who blended oral and written traditions into numerous books and musical recordings, has died. She was 78.

The Organization of Women Writers of Africa says Cortez died of heart failure in New York on Dec. 28. She had helped found the group and, while dividing her time between homes in New York and Senegal, was planning a symposium of women writers to be held in Ghana in May.

Cortez was a prominent figure in the black arts movement of the 1960s and `70s that advocated art as a vehicle for political protest. She cited her experiences trying to register black voters in Mississippi in the early `60s as a key influence.

A native of Fort Huachuca, Ariz., she was raised in the Watts section of Los Angeles. She loved jazz since childhood and would listen to her parents' record collection. Musicians including trumpeter Don Cherry would visit her home and through them she met her first husband, Ornette Coleman, one of the world's greatest jazz artists. They were married from 1954 to 1964.

Her books included "Scarifications" and "Mouth On Paper," and she recorded often with her band the Firespitters, chanting indictments of racism, sexism and capitalism. Its members included her son, drummer Denardo Coleman, and several other members of Ornette Coleman's electronic Prime Time band, guitarist Bern Nix and bassist Al McDowell.

Cortez, who described herself as a "jazz poet," performed all over the world and her work was translated into 28 languages. At the time of her death, she was living with her second husband, the sculptor Melvin Edwards.

One of the great poets of our
time and especially important
to those who love music and
care about social justice.

Here's her tribute to her
good friend Don Cherry
(backed up by members of
Ornette Coleman's legendary
Prime Time band.)


Jayne Cortez - “Womanist Warrior Poet”

Jayne Cortez (May 10, 1936 - December 28, 2012) was a poet, and performance artist. Cortez authored eleven books of poetry and was a performer of her poems with music on nine recordings. Her voice is celebrated for its political, surrealistic, and dynamic innovations in lyricism, and visceral sound. Cortez has presented her work and ideas at universities, museums, and festivals around the world. Her poems have been translated into many languages and widely published in anthologies, journals, and magazines. She is a recipient of several awards including: Arts International, the National Endowment for the Arts, the International African Festival Award. The Langston Hughes Medal, The American Book Award, and the Thelma McAndless Distinguished Professorship Award.

Her most recent books include THE BEAUTIFUL BOOK (Bola Press) and JAZZ FAN LOOKS BACK (Hanging Loose Press). Her latest CDs with the Firespitter Band are FIND YOUR OWN VOICE, BORDERS OF DISORDERLY TIME (Bola Press), TAKING THE BLUES BACK HOME, produced by Harmolodic and by Verve Records. Cortez was the organizer of the international symposium "Slave Routes: Resistance, Abolition & Creative Progress" (NYU) and director of the film Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writers Dissecting Globalization. She was also co-founder and president of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Inc., and can be seen on screen in the films Women In Jazz and Poetry In Motion.

Below Cortez reads a selection of her award-winning work, which vividly reflects the energy, passions, rhythms and tensions of modern urban life from an African-American femininst perspective. 

Series: "Artists on the Cutting Edge":

Jayne Cortez and the firespitters - "There it is":

"Maintain Control/Economic Love Song" by Jayne Cortez:

"She Got He Got" by Jayne Cortez:

Artists On The Cutting Edge: Jayne Cortez:

"I Am New York City" by Jayne Cortez:

"I See Chano Pozo" by Jayne Cortez:

"How Long Has Trane Been Gone" by Jayne Cortez:

 "Find Your Own Voice" by Jayne Cortez:

 "Rape" by Jayne Cortez:

Jayne Cortez & The Firespitters - "Everybody Wants To Be Somebody":

Taking the Blues Back Home (Audio CD)

Audio CD (August 6, 1996)
Number of Discs: 1
Label: Polygram Records

"Excellent performance by the Jayne & her Firespitters with guitar ace Carl Weathersby providing a guest appearance."

Track Listings

Taking The Blues Back Home
Bumblebee, You Saw Big Mama
Mojo 96
Cultural Operations
The Guitars I Used To Know
Talk To Me
I Have Been Searching
Global Inequalities
Blues Bop For Diz
You Can Be
Endangered Species List Blues
Nobody Knows A Thing

On the Imperial Highway: New and Selected Poems
Paperback: 131 pages
Publisher: Hanging Loose Press (February 23, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1931236909
ISBN-13: 978-1931236904
Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.5 inches

"Jayne Cortez's poems are filled with images that most of us are afraid to see."
—Walter Mosley

New York poet Jayne "Cortez has been and continues to be an explorer, probing the valleys and chasms of human existence. No ravine is too perilous, no abyss too threatening for Jayne Cortez." 
 —Maya Angelou

Jazz Fan Looks Back
Paperback: 115 pages
Publisher: Hanging Loose Press (October 23, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1931236097
ISBN-13: 978-1931236096

"Jayne Cortez understands better than most how to make spoken words and images swing and rock." —Gene Seymour, Newsweek
Somewhere In Advance of NowherePaperback: 124 pages
Publisher: Serpent's Tail (May 1, 1996)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1852424222
ISBN-13: 978-1852424220
Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 0.4 inches

Cortez writes verse that's fiercely frank and urban. These poems range from the overtly political, even didactic, to the streetwise sensuality of Cortez's better rhythmic, percussive efforts which, no less harsh and glaring, provide an unflinching glimpse at life's ugliness. Occasionally, this grim point of view produces a keen, if gritty, kind of insight, and hence a hopefulness arising from clarity, as in "Companera (Ana Mendieta)," in which Cortez writes of a sculptor friend, "a cyclone in blue tennis shoes/ a sequin dress machete," who was thrown out of a window by a drunk lover: "Why not say/ after the exit of two great drummers/ & in between the entrance of/ one monumental earthquake/ a huge volcano eruption/ & reappearance of the tail of Halley's comet/ We lost Ana/ but Ana did not leap/ because Ana knew/ Ana could not fly." Despite much loss, the speaker of these poems manages to survive. This resilience animates Cortez's work and supports the unwavering, and compelling directness with which she confronts the world.

Coagulations: New and Selected Poems
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Thunder's Mouth Pr (May 1984)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0938410202
ISBN-13: 978-0938410201
Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.2 x 0.4 inches


There It Is
by Jayne Cortez

And if we don't fight
if we don't resist
if we don't organize and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exaggerated look of captivity
the stylized look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever And there it is

In fact
will not
convoy of chickens

Today poems are like flags
flying on liquor store roof
poems are like baboons
waiting to be fed by tourists

& does it matter
how many metaphors
reach out to you
when the sun
goes down like
a stuffed bird in
tropical forest
of your solitude

In fact
will not
sing jazz
constricted mouth
of an anteater
no matter how many
symbols survive
to see the moon
dying in saw dust
of your toenail

Rose Solitude

"I am essence of Rose Solitude
my cheeks are laced with cognac
my hips sealed with five satin nails
i carry dreams and romance of new fools and old
between the musk of fat
and the side pocket of my mink tongue."

-Jayne Cortez

“The avant-garde is that in art which didn’t exist before. It’s always hard to introduce, because the avant-garde has to make a place for itself where there wasn’t one, where there wasn’t anything.”
--Jayne Cortez

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's Urban Improvisation

Jayne Cortez — poet, activist, muse of the avant garde — dies, age 76
By Howard Mandel  
December 30, 2012 

Jayne Cortez

Jayne Cortez, a no-nonsense poet who often declaimed her incisive lines of vivid imagery tying fierce social criticism to imperatives of personal responsibility with backing by her band the Firespitters, died Dec. 28 at age 76. Her deep appreciation of American blues and jazz was another of her constant themes; her son Denardo Coleman played drums in the Firespitters, with whom she recorded six albums.
One of the “Lynch Fragments” by the sculptor Mel Edwards

An activist in the Civil Rights movement, organizer of Watts writing and drama workshops, founder of the Watts Repertory Theater, Bola Press and co-founder of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Ms. Cortez has also taught at Rutgers, Howard, Wesleyan and Eastern Michigan universities, Dartmouth and Queens colleges and was a muse to the avant garde. Her husband sculptor Melvin Edwards is well known for his series “Lynch Fragments” and “Rockers.” When Ms. Cortez was a teenager in California, musicians including Don Cherry hung out at her family’s home because she had (as Cherry said) “the best record collection,” and through them she met Ornette Coleman, to whom she was married from 1954 to ’64 and with whom she kept in contact. Members of the Firespitters such as guitarist Bern Nix and bassist Jamaaldeen Tacuma, besides Denardo, played in Ornette’s electrically amplified band Prime Time.

Born in Arizona, raised in Los Angeles, Ms. Cortez was drawn to the arts at an early age. She painted and played cello besides keeping journals, graduated from an arts high school but was unable to go to college due to financial problems. She is sometimes said to have inspired Coleman’s composition “Lonely Woman,” originally titled “Angry Woman” — but the adjectives that seem (in my limited experience) to best describe Jayne Cortez are independent, inquisitive, precise and determined. Rhythm, repetition and pointed rhetoric characterize her poetry, as when she asked, “If the drum is a woman/Why do you beat your woman?”:
If the drum is a woman
then understand your drum
. . . your drum is not invisible
your drum is not inferior to you
your drum is a woman
so don’t reject your drum
don’t try to dominate your drum
. . . don’t be forced into the position
as an oppressor of drums
and make a drum tragedy of drums
if your drum is a woman
don’t abuse your drum.
In 2000, I was honored to be invited by Jayne Cortez to sit on a panel for an international symposium she was helping to organize at New York University titled “Slave Routes: The Long Memory.” Sometime later, while writing Miles Ornette Cecil – Jazz Beyond Jazz, I ran into her coming out a Manhattan drug store and we chatted briefly. I mentioned that my topic was the avant-garde, and she immediately responded that “the avant-garde is that in art which didn’t exist before. It’s always hard to introduce, because the avant-garde has to make a place for itself where there wasn’t one, where there wasn’t anything.”

Deeper, deeper, deeper/Higher, higher, higher. Always reaching and urging us to, too, intending encouragement as much as challenge. Thanks, Jayne Cortez, for ideas, spirit, words and music.


--Jayne Cortez

Biography / Criticism
Poet, musician, activist, and entrepreneur Jayne Cortez is an accomplished woman who uses her work to address social problems in the U.S. and around the world. Over the last 30 years, she has contributed greatly to the struggle for racial and gender equality.

Jayne Cortez was born in Fort Huachuca, Arizona and raised in Los Angeles. After graduating from an arts high school, Cortez enrolled in college, but was forced to drop out due to financial problems. From an early age, Cortez was heavily influenced by jazz artists from the Los Angeles area. In 1954, at the age of 18, Cortez married the rising jazz star Ornette Coleman. The two had a son, Denardo Coleman, two years later.

In the 1960s Cortez embarked on several endeavors, including participating in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, traveling to Europe and Africa, and organizing writing workshops in Watts, California. Cortez landed in New York City in 1967, where she still resides when not teaching or performing around the world.

In 1964 Cortez founded the Watts Repertory Theater, and in 1972 she established her own publishing company, Bola Press. Cortez has written ten books of poetry, her most recent being Jazz Fan Looks Back (2002). Her work has been highly praised by black contemporary artists such as Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka. Cortez has taught and presented her work in many countries around the world, including Paris, South Africa, Brazil, and Berlin. Furthermore, her work has been translated into 28 different languages, and she has been published in well-known journals such as Presence Africaine, Black Scholar, Daughters of Africa and Mother Jones. Cortez received the Langston Hughes Award for excellence in the arts and letters, the American Book Award, and the International African Festival Award, among others. Cortez also serves as the president of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, which she founded in 1991 with Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana.

With her band, the Firespitters, Cortez has recorded nine albums. The group's eight members, including Cortez's son, create a unique sound of jazz/funk beats which accompany Cortez's spoken word poems.

Many of Cortez's poems embrace the values of the Black Arts Movement of the 60s and 70s. Her razor sharp imagery and directness leave no room for questioning the intent of the author. Cortez's excrescent language and her ability to push the acceptable limits of expression to address issues of race, sex, and homophobia place her in a category that few other women occupy. Coagulations: New and Selected Poems (1984) clearly depicts her stylistic approach to political poetry. This collection is divided into four sections, with each section addressing specific aspects of her political agenda. In the first section, entitled "Scarifications," Cortez gives poetic animation to New York City and the cultures it represents. She speaks of New York City as a "brain of hot sauce. " She writes: "new york city never change never sleep never melt" ("I Am New York City"). She begs the city in smooth tempo, "new york/ won't you confess/ your private affairs" ("Bowery Street").

The second section in Coagulations is "Mouth on Paper," where Cortez turns to descriptions of people who have shaped the political atmosphere. She cites poets Christopher Okigbo and Henry Dumas, teenager Claude Reece Jr. , dancer and singer Josephine Baker, jazz musician Duke Ellington, the students in Soweto, and all the silent masses of black people who add to the racial conundrum that is the United States. She writes of "bloodthirsty people/ brooding in North Dakota with grenades in their hands"; a militant force of people anxious for equality, but "brooding beyond the deadline" ("Brooding"). This section reveals Cortez's fiery poetic style. She strongly denounces racism when she writes:

Give me the black on the red of the bullet
. . . for the blackness of Claude Reece Jr. the blackness called dangerous weapon
called resisting an arrest
call nigger threat

I want to make justice for the blackness of Claude Reece Jr.
          — "Give me the Red on the Black of the Bullet"

Her use of bluntness and sexual reference calls the reader to attention and gives signature to her intent. She makes no effort to confuse the reader; her message is clear:

When I shove brown glass
through skull of a possum
and pass from my ears a baptism of red piss
when I cry from my butt like a jackal
and throw limbs of a dying mule into the river
. . . somewhere along the road cry hard
and let this night train sink its
rundown rectum of electric chairs into heaven
and say f*** it
— "Nighttrains"

The third section in Coagulations shares the name of Cortez's band, "Firespitter. " In this section, Cortez adamantly dismisses misogynist practices in her poem "If the Drum is a Woman":

If the drum is a woman
then understand your drum
. . . your drum is not invisible
your drum is not inferior to you
your drum is a woman
so don't reject your drum
don't try to dominate your drum
. . . don't be forced into the position
as an oppressor of drums
and make a drum tragedy of drums
if your drum is a woman
don't abuse your drum.

In "Firespitter," Cortez introduces a variety of forms of political and social discourse. She attempts to bridge the gaps between black people by unifying their dissent within the current atmosphere of American society. She advances this position when she says, "The ruling class will tell you that/ there is no ruling class/ as they organize their liberal supporters into/ white supremacist lynch mobs" ("There Is Is").

The last section of Coagulations is a selection of new poetry called "On All Fronts. " Cortez's new poetry covers a variety of topics. In "Stockpiling," Cortez comments on the decadence of majority society, calling people to come forward to make change "before the choking/ before the panic/ before the apathy/ rises up. " Cortez defines further problems with mainstream society and its pressure to conform when she says, "They want you/ to be product/ consumer/ and public authority/ all together in one package/ without choice/ without change/ without a human transforming action/ Just enter/ emulate & exit" ("Plain Truth"). In another selection, Cortez comments on the easy route to complacency taken on by those who do not open their eyes to atrocities of the world. She harshly criticizes the marginality enforced on everything that is not part of dominant culture. She writes, "Everything is wonderful," then follows with a series of "except fors," tying in many modern world conflicts that are easily overlooked by those who are blind to them. In a poem titled "Expenditures: Economic Love Song I," Cortez uses rhythmic repetition in order to delineate the disastrous effects of increased military spending in the world.

Coagulations is appealing in the sense that it remarks on everything that is unappealing in today's mainstream American society. It calls into question many things that are considered casual practice, such as everyday comportment in social situations and democracy in the United States. Cortez relays her perspective and provides convincing, eye-opening agendas for discussion by all who are willing to listen.

Cortez's Poetic Magnetic is a collection of poetry from two of her recorded albums of poetry music technology, Everywhere Drums and Maintain Control. In this compilation, Cortez remarks on a number of issues. She reminisces on the origins of jazz and the influence of the great pioneering musicians. She marks the influence of African cultures on the constantly reforming African-American culture as well as the lack of equality faced by marginalized populations in America. She attempts to describe the themes behind blues music, the myths behind the American dream, and the constant search for validation by the dominant masses. She delivers her political views on apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela's response: "They told him he'd better capitulate to oppression/ But Mandela refuses to be brutalized into submission" ("Nelson Mandela is Coming 2"). She speaks of an urgent need to identify problems before attempting to make a change. She questions why black people kill each other and why Africans are not noble to other Africans. She expresses an adamant non-complacency with war and violent attacks and the lasting images and memories they leave: "the sound of the human voice in its calmness/ in its shrillness/ in its monumental invention of pitches/ is better than war" ("Tell Me"). Poetic Magnetic is a virulently alluring collection of poetry that gains even more appeal when spoken, shouted, and expressed to varying rhythms and beats.

Cortez makes no mistake in her approach; she is constant and firm in her opposition to oppression, racism, and cultural marginality. She calls for a swift end to imposed dehumanization, and demands the creation of order and equality in our society.

Selected Bibliography 
Works by the Author


Jazz Fan Looks Back (2002)
Somewhere In Advance Of Nowhere (1996)
Fragments (1994)
Poetic Magnetic (1991)
Coagulations and Selected New Poems (1984)
Firespitter (1982)
Festivals and Funerals (1982)
Mouth On Paper (1977)
Scarifications (1973)
Pisstained Stairs and the Monkey Man's Wares (1969)
Taking the Blues Back Home (1996)
Cheerful and Optimistic (1994)
Women in E Motion (1992)
Drums Everywhere (1990)
Maintain Control (1986)
There It Is (1982)
Unsubmissive Blues (1980)
Celebrations and Solitudes (1974)

Works about the Author

Anderson, T.J. Notes to Make the Sound Come Right: Four Innovators of Jazz Poetry. Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 2004.
Bolden, Jayne. All the Birds Sing Bass: The Revolutionary Blues of Jayne Cortez. African American Review 35.1 (2001 Spring): 61-71.
Brown, Kimberly N. Of Poststructuralist Fallout, Scarification, and Blood Poems. Other Sisterhoods: Literary Theory and U.S. Women of Color. Ed. Sandra Kumamoto Stanley. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1998. 63-85.
Labrusse, Hughes and Jean Migrenne. Poètes de New York: mosaîque. Thaon: Amiot Lenganey, 1991. (French)
Melhem, D.H. A MELUS Profile and Interview: Jayne Cortez. MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 21.1 (1996 Spring): 71-79.
Nielsen, Aldon Lynn. Capillary Currents: Jayne Cortez. We Who Love to Be Astonished: Experimental Women's Writing and Performance Poetics. Ed. Laura Hinton and Cynthia Hogue. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2002. 227-36.
Nosaka, Masashi. Burakku Amerika no genzai. Language and Culture Studies Series 15 (1997): 59-75.
Santamaria, Ulysses. L'Amérique noire. Paris: Les Temps Modernes, 1986. (French)
Works in Languages other than English


Joans, Ted and Jayne Cortez. Merveilleux coup de foudre [poetry en francois of Ted Joans and Jayne Cortez]. Trans. Ms. Ila Errus and M. Sila Errus. Paris: Handshake Editions, 1982.

Site with information about Jayne Cortez, including biographical and critical information, and links to her poems online.


The author's official site.

Organization for Women Writers of Africa
Site for the writer's group that Cortez co-founded.


This page was researched and submitted by Lucy Corbett and Licínia McMorrow on 4/17/03 and edited and updated by Lauren Curtright on 10/24/04.

Jayne Cortez

Poet and performance artist Jayne Cortez was born in 1936 in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

Her books of poetry include On the Imperial Highway: New and Selected Poems (Hanging Loose Press, 2008), The Beautiful Book (Bola Press, 2007), Jazz Fan Looks Back (Hanging Loose Press, 2002), Somewhere in Advance of Nowhere (Serpent's Tail, 1997), Coagulations: New and Selected Poems (1982), Poetic Magnetic (1991), Firespitter (1982), Mouth on Paper (1977), Scarifications (1973), and Pissstained Stairs and the Monkey Man's Wares (1969).

Her work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Cortez has also released a number of recordings, many with her band The Firespitters, including Taking the Blues Back Home (1997), Cheerful & Optimistic (1994), Everywhere Drums (1991), and Maintain Control (1986).

In 1964, she founded the Watts Repertory Company, and in 1972, she formed her own publishing company, Bola Press. Her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts, the International African Festival Award, and the American Book Award. Jayne Cortez has performed, lectured, and taught at many universities, museums, and festivals. She lived in Dakar, Senegal, and New York City. She died on December 28, 2012.

Jayne Cortez (1936 - 2012) Poet, and Performance Artist
Posted by Black Art In America on December 28, 2012 at 4:30pm
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Jayne Cortez, one of our great Black Arts Movement poets, made her transition today. Her words wounded our enemies and sang ballads to the beauty in us. Read her poems to understand her gifts and to honor her service to the people. -Michael Simanga


Jayne Cortez was born in Arizona, grew up in California, and currently lives in New York City and Dakar, Senegal. She is the author of ten books of poems and performer of her poetry with music on nine recordings. Her voice is celebrated for its political, surrealistic, dynamic innovations in lyricism, and visceral sound. Cortez has presented her work and ideas at universities, museums, and festivals in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, the Caribbean and the United States. Her poems have been translated into many languages and widely published in anthologies, journals, and magazines. She is the recipient of several awards including: Arts International, the National Endowment for the Arts, the International African Festival Award, The Langston Hughes Award, and the American Book Award. Her most recent books are "The Beautiful Book" Bola Press 2007, "Jazz Fan Looks Back" published by Hanging Loose Press, and "Somewhere In Advance of Nowhere" published by Serpent's Tail Ltd. Her latest CD recordings with the Firespitter Band are "Taking the Blues Back Home," produced by Harmolodic and by Verve Records, "Borders of Disorderly Time" and " Find Your Own Voice released by Bola Press. Cortez is director of the film "Yari Yari: Black Women Writers and the Future," organizer of "Slave Routes the Long Memory" and "Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writer Dissecting Globalization," both conferences were held at New York University. She is president of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Inc. and is on screen in the films: "Women In Jazz" and "Poetry In Motion.’

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Please Note: The following list of books is not organized according to any personal hierarchy of the relative value of each individual book. Rather it is a list that seriously considers ALL of the books listed here to be of equal intellectual and cultural value and interest, albeit for different reasons. The bottomline on this list is that each one of these books is extraordinary and invaluable in their own right and represents some of the very best writing published in the United States in 2012.
--Kofi Natambu, Editor

End This Depression Now!
by Paul Krugman
W.W. Norton, 2012

Booker T and Them
by Bill Harris
Wayne State University Press,  2012

 The Price of the Ticket:  
Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics
by Fredrick C. Harris
Oxford University Press,  2012
The Last Holiday:  A Memoir
by Gil Scott-Heron
Grove Press,  2012

Predator Nation:  Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America
by Charles H. Ferguson
Crown Business,  2012

Jack Johnson,  Rebel Sojourner:
Boxing in the Shadow of the Global Color Line
by Theresa Runstedtler
University of California Press,  2012

The Indispensable Zinn:  
The Essential Writings of the "People's Historian"
by Howard Zinn  (edited by Timothy Patrick McCarthy)
The New Press,  2012

                   The Black Revolution on Campus
by Martha Biondi
University of California Press,  2012
Razor:  Revolutionary Art For Cultural Revolution
by Amiri Baraka
Third World Press,  2012

Occupy the Economy:  Challenging Capitalism
by Richard Wolff  (In Converation with David Barsamian)
Open Media Series
City Lights Books,  2012

                         Samurai among Panthers:  
Richard Aoki On Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life
by Diane C. Fujino
University of Minnesota Press,  2012

Rebuild the Dream
by Van Jones
Nation Books,  2012

Drift:  The Unmooring of American Military Power
by Rachel Maddow
Crown Publishers,  2012
 The Meaning of Freedom 
(And Other Difficult Dialogues)
by Angela Y. Davis
OpenMedia Series
City Lights Books, 2012

Hopeless:  Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion
Edited by Jeffrey St. Clair & Joshua Frank
AK Press,  2012

Twilight of the Elites:  America After Meritocracy
by Christopher Hayes
Crown Publishers,  2012

Rebel Cities:  
From the right To the City to the Urban Revolution
by David Harvey
Verso,  2012
The Courage To Hope:  
How I Stood Up To The Politics Of Fear
by Shirley Sherrod
Atria Books,  2012 
J. Edgar Hoover Goes To The Movies:  
The FBI and the Origins of Hollywood's Cold War
by John Sbardellati
Cornel University Press,  2012

Stolen Images:   
Lumumba and the Early Films of Raoul Peck 
by Raoul Peck
(featuring four screenplays translated from the French by Catherine Temerson)
Seven Stories Press,  2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

John Nichols On the Vicious Attack on Labor Unions in Michigan by the Koch Brothers and the Republican Right Via Governor Snyder

A union steel worker holds up a sign during a rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, Thursday, December 6, 2012, as Senate Republicans introduced “right to work” legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)


Please read and pass the word.  We've got a LOT of work to do to change this society and we should never forget that the brutal, extremely wealthy, and well organized forces aligned against us (e.g. the national political rightwing, corporations, banks, billionaire developers, Wall Street, governmental and economic elites in both national political parties etc.) are absolutely determined to destroy us in both the short and long run and if we don't collectively wake up and fight back on a massive national scale these forces and their deadly agenda will succeed and only we will be the utterly defeated victims of their withering assault...Stay tuned...


GOP, Koch Brothers Sneak Attack Guts Labor Rights in Michigan
by John Nichols
December 6, 2012
The Nation

In the state where workers sat down in Flint General Motors plants seventy-five years ago and emboldened the industrial labor movement that would give birth to the American middle class, Republican legislators on Thursday voted to gut basic labor rights.

Union leaders warned that, if organized labor can be so battered in the union heartland of Michigan, it can—and may—be attacked anywhere. And the national significance of the move was highlighted by a statement from the Obama White House, which said:

President Obama has long opposed so-called “right-to-work” laws and he continues to oppose them now. The President believes our economy is stronger when workers get good wages and good benefits, and he opposes attempts to roll back their rights. Michigan—and its workers’ role in the revival of the US automobile industry—is a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy.

But, while the president carried Michigan by a 54-44 margin on November 6, neither he nor his fellow Democrats were calling the shots Thursday.

After Republican leaders announced Thursday morning that they intended to enact so-called “right to work” legislation—which is always better described as “no rights at work” legislation—the Michigan state House voted Thursday afternoon to eliminate basic union organizing and workplace protections that generations of American workers fought to establish. Several hours later, the Michigan state Senate did the same thing, as part of a bold anti-labor initiative launched in coordination with a Koch Brothers–funded Americans for Prosperity project to “pave the way for right to work in states across our nation.”

As the Republicans launched the attack on unions and their members, Americans for Prosperity—a group developed and funded by right-wing industrialists and billionaire campaign donors Charles and David Koch—was in the thick of things. AFP recruited conservatives to show up at the state Capitol in Lansing to counter union protests and prepared materials supporting the Michigan initiative, including a fifteen-page booklet titled “Unions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: How forced unionization has harmed workers and Michigan.” Within minutes of the announcement by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder that Republicans would ram through the “right to work” legislation, AFP was hailing the move in formal statements “as the shot heard around the world for workplace freedom.”

Snyder, a Republican, has indicated that he will sign the measure that was passed during a lame-duck session of the legislature.

Employing slick messaging and a timeline clearly developed to thwart opposition, Snyder and his legislative allies claimed that they were enacting anti-labor legislation to create “Freedom to Choose” in the workplace. But the Orwellian turn of phrase did not fool the working people of Michigan, thousands of whom surrounded and occupied the Capitol during a day of emotional protest. “Right-to-work would set all Michigan workers back in terms of wages, benefits and safety on the job,” declared Mike Polkki, a mine worker from Ishpeming who joined furious last-minute efforts to lobby members of the Republican-controlled legislative chambers. “Instead of attacking the middle class, our lawmakers should work to build it back up.”

This was theme or protests throughout the day, as Michigan unions made the point that undermining labor rights undermines the living standards of all working people—not just union members.

“There are some basic economic facts that should inform any thoughtful discussion of Right to Work legislation. Workers, union or nonunion, make an average of $1,500 less per year in Right to Work states. They are also less likely to have pension or health care benefits,” explained Michigan State AFL-CIO President Karla Swift. “The growth rate for Right to Work states before they adopted such policies is actually higher than the growth rate for these states after they adopted these laws.”

The statements were true.

But they were not taken seriously by the Republicans who—though they suffered setbacks in the November 6 election—control both chambers of the Michigan legislature. Swift and UAW president Bob King were among hundreds of workers who were locked out of the Michigan Capitol Thursday, as protesters inside were pepper-sprayed and arrested by State Police.

The Republican legislators evidenced no intention to listen to logic, or to entertain honest debate. GOP legislative leaders had plotted behind closed doors with Governor Snyder, to have Michigan join the traditionally lower-wage states that decades ago enacted “right to work” laws to thwart the rise of a labor movement that promoted civil rights, women’s rights and economic justice.

The Michigan legislation goes much further than proposals advanced last year by Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio, which targeted public employees. Under the Michigan legislation, basic labor rights are stripped away from both public and private-sector workers.

That’s not the only difference between Michigan Governor Snyder and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, whose name became synonymous with aggressive anti-labor initiatives when in February 2011, he moved to strip collective bargaining rights from teachers and public employees.

“At least Scott Walker had the backbone to barge through the front door” and propose his legislation, argued Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, a pro-labor Democrat from East Lansing. Michigan’s Snyder, who suggested for months that he was not interested in advancing “right to work” legislation, suddenly shifted position at the eleventh hour, when he sided with the most rigidly anti-labor of his party’s legislators.

“They’re cowards,” declared Whitmer, who bluntly declared: “They are taking away our rights.”

Whitmer got that right. But the cowards were in charge Thursday.

As in Wisconsin, where crucial elements of Walker’s anti-labor law have been ruled unconstitutional by the courts, the Michigan legislators bent the rules of their chambers to rush the law to Snyder’s desk.

Ultimately, those abuses could end up preventing implementation of the law—although that’s a hope rather than a certainty.

There is also the hope that voters in a state that voted overwhelmingly for President Obama and Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow on November 6 will eventually elect a new pro-labor governor and legislature.

The determination to fight for labor rights runs deep in Michigan. It’s a part of the state’s history, and UAW President King says it is far from finished.

Referring to anti-labor billionaire Dick DeVos, a Michigan Republican who has worked closely with fellow billionaires Charles and David Koch to fund anti-labor initiatives, King said: “This is a short-term victory for Dick DeVos and the radical right wing. In the long-term there will be a victory for working families in Michigan.”


Taking Aim at Michigan’s Middle Class 
December 10, 2012
New York Times

The decline of the middle class in this country has paralleled that of the labor movement, which has been battered by the relentless efforts of business groups and Republicans to drive down wages, boost corporate profits and inflate executive salaries and bonuses. Now that campaign is on the verge of a devastating victory in Michigan, home of the modern labor movement, which could transform the state’s economy for the worse.
On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Legislature is expected to pass a law that would allow workers to avoid paying dues to a union that represents their shop. Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has reversed an earlier position and said he would sign the law. Democratic officials, labor leaders and workers are urging him to reconsider, knowing that a business victory in Michigan, of all places, would encourage other states to make the same mistake.

These measures are misleadingly known as “right to work” laws, and their purpose is no less deceptive. Business leaders say workers should not be forced to join a union against their will, but, in fact, workers in Michigan can already opt out of a union. If they benefit from the better wages and benefits negotiated by a union, however, they are required to pay dues or fees, preventing the free riders that would inevitably leave unions without resources.

Concern for the rights of individual workers, of course, is not the real reason business is pushing so hard for these laws. Gutting unions is the fastest way to achieve lower wages and higher profits. Last year, in support of an Indiana antidues laws that later passed, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said the law would draw businesses to the state for lower labor costs. A study by the University of Notre Dame in January found that the average wages and benefits for nonfarm workers in right-to-work states was $57,732, while in states without the law it was $65,567. States with antidues laws have higher rates of poverty and lower rates of health coverage.

Republican officials also know that depriving unions of dues will hurt Democratic candidates, who usually win the support of labor. As President Obama said at a diesel plant in Redford, Mich., on Monday, “These so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws, they don’t have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”

Mr. Snyder’s turnabout shocked workers in his state, and Democratic officials have spent the last few days urging him to reconsider and prevent a needless drive to the bottom. By withholding his signature, he can ensure that Michigan remains both the birthplace and the economic foundation of middle-class security.

12 December 2012

By Dave Johnson, Campaign for America's Future | Op-Ed

Pay attention to what is happening in Michigan, because it will add downward even more pressure to your wages and benefits, wherever you live and work.

(Photo: Peoples World / Flickr)

Pay attention to what is happening in Michigan, because it will add downward even more pressure to your wages and benefits, wherever you live and work. Republicans in the Michigan legislature have rammed through anti-union “right-to-work” laws making union dues voluntary even as unions a required by law to provide services to members and non-members. They say this will make Michigan more “business-friendly” by driving down wages and benefits, thereby stealing jobs from states where working people have rights. The actual intent is to get rid of the unions altogether, and their ability to fight for the 99% in the ongoing class war with the 1%.

What Are So-Called “Right-To-Work” Laws?

“Right-to-work” means the right to work in a unionized business that has a negotiated contract without paying dues to the union.

The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act allows states to prohibit unions from collecting fees from non-members or making union membership mandatory, and states that do this are called “right-to-work” states. So-called “right-to-work” laws prohibit labor contracts from requiring employees who are covered by the contract to pay dues to the union that won the contract. But the unions are still required to represent every worker who is covered by a contract — even workers who are not members of the union and do not pay union dues. This costs money, so the union is drained of funds and power, thereby weakening their ability and incentive to fight for better wages and benefits.

Stealing From Other States, Lowering Wages And Tax Revenue

The appeal of these so-called “right-to-work” laws is that by weakening the ability of workers to band together and fight for better wages and conditions, they result in lower wages, benefits and safety standards. This is supposed to make these states more attractive to employers, which then brings jobs to the lower-wages states as employers leave states where worker have rights.

This affects wages across the larger economy. Any jobs that do move to these states come from other states. So in the larger economy of the country the effect of these laws is to shift wages, benefits and safety standards downward. This brings pressure that forces all wages for all employees down, which further lowers the country’s tax base, reducing the entire country’s ability to educate, maintain and modernize infrastructure, etc.

As jobs shift to lower-wage states, pressure to lower all wages increases, and the collection of income tax revenue decreases. The ability of consumers to make purchases decreases as well. Infrastructure investment declines. Education declines. Over time the country falls behind the rest of the world and it become more expensive and more difficult to catch up.

Or, in other words, exactly what we are seeing all around us now.

Studies Of The Effects

A May, 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that “right-to-work” states have lower wages (examples: 9.4% lower for all occupations, 11.4% lower for teachers) than states with union rights.

A January, 2012 study by American Rights at Work, New Research Counters Arguments for “Right-To-Work” Laws, examined a number of studies and found that “recent studies rebut claims of economic growth and instead find that laws suppress wages.”

In Nonunion Wage Rates and the Threat of Unionization Henry Farber, Professor of Economics at Princeton University found that after Idaho passed a RTW law in 1985, there was a statistically-significant drop in nonunion wages relative to other states.

Feb, 2011, Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Does ‘right-to-work’ create jobs? Answers from Oklahoma,

Despite ambitious claims by proponents, the evidence is overwhelming that:

• Right-to-work laws have not succeeded in boosting employment growth in the states that have adopted them.

• The case of Oklahoma – closest in time to the conditions facing those states now considering such legislation – is particularly discouraging regarding the law’s ability to spur job growth. Since the law passed in 2001, manufacturing employment and relocations into the state reversed their climb and began to fall, precisely the opposite of what right-to-work advocates promised.

• For those states looking beyond traditional or low wage manufacturing jobs – whether to higher-tech manufacturing, to “knowledge” sector jobs, or to service industries dependent on consumer spending in the local economy – there is reason to believe that right-to-work laws may actually harm a state’s economic prospects.
Sept, 2011, EPI, ‘Right to work,’ The wrong answer for Michigan’s economy, findings included,
• Right-to-work laws lower wages—for both union and nonunion workers alike—by an average of $1,500 per year, after accounting for the cost of living in each state.

• Right-to-work laws also decrease the likelihood that employees get either health insurance or pensions through their jobs—again, for both union and nonunion workers.

• By cutting wages, right-to-work laws threaten to undermine job growth by reducing the discretionary income people have to spend in the local retail, real estate, construction, and service industries. Every $1 million in wage cuts translates into an additional six jobs lost in the economy. With 85 percent of Michigan’s economy concentrated in health care, retail, education, and other non-manufacturing industries, widespread wage and benefit cuts could translate into significant negative spillover effects for the state’s economy.

Labor’s Reaction

On CNN this morning UAW President Bob King explained that this bill threatens worker rights. “It demonstrates to workers and really a broad spectrum of the populous that we have to work hard, we have to fight hard to protect our rights.” Explaining that workers already have the choice to join a union, King said,“You don’t have to be a union member. But you have to pay your fair share. Just like if you live in a community, you pay for your fair share of the road cleaning, of the police, of the fire,” King argued. People who benefit by [the union's] collective bargaining benefit by this procedure. They pay a fair share of the cost of representation.”

Steelworkers leader Leo Gerard called on Michigan governor Snyder to veto the law, (click through for the entire statement)

“The USW active and retired members join other unions and allies in Michigan and across the nation to call on Gov. Snyder to support the proposal of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation. We ask the Governor to use his veto power to stop this unnecessary and divisive right-to-work bill.

“If the Governor feels this bill will move Michigan forward, he should delay the final legislative votes and allow an amendment that would put this issue before the public as a state ballot initiative. We urge Governor Snyder to delay his signing of the bill. Let the people of Michigan debate and vote on a consequential matter that will affect all working families.

“We know the newly-elected Michigan state legislature convening early next year has added Democrats that would reject a right-to-work-for-less bill. Right-to-work is only supported by millionaires and billionaires who profit by taking more money out of the workers’ pockets.

Demonstrations and Disruptions

In a sign of things to come, 12-15,000 people demonstrated today at Michigan’s capitol building. There were confrontations, including mounted police charging into the crowd. Former Congressman Mark Schauer was pepper-sprayed. Ned Resnikoff, writing in, Michigan passes ‘Right-to-Work’ but fight isn’t over at the Ed Schultz website.

Shortly after noon on Tuesday, Michigan’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives gave its final approval to the state’s hotly contested “right-to-work” legislation, as thousands of the bill’s opponents rallied outside. But labor activists and their allies say that the fight isn’t over yet, and they’re already plotting their strategy for keeping Michigan a union stronghold.

“This fight is not over by a long shot, regardless of what happens today,” said Zack Pohl, the executive director of Progress Michigan.

See Also

Mary Bottari at PRWatch: Michigan Passes “Right to Work” Containing Verbatim Language from ALEC Model Bill
AFL-CIO ‘Right to Work’ for Less fact sheet.

Economic Policy Institute, Unions and Labor Standards, a collection of articles, posts and studies of the effects labor and anti-labor policies.

Nicole Pasulka at Mother Jones, Right-to-Work Laws, Explained

Josh Eidelson at Salon, Koch brothers, Tea Party cash drives Michigan right-to-work bill

Amanda Terkel at Huffington Post, Big 3 Automakers Reportedly Worried About Michigan Right To Work Legislation

Teamster Nation: RTW passes in #MI as thousands try to enter Capitol

OurFuture post on being “business-friendly, China Is Very “Business-Friendly”,

China is very, very “business-friendly.” Corporate conservatives lecture us that we should be more “business-friendly,” in order to “compete” with China. They say we need to cut wages and benefits, work longer hours, get rid of overtime and sick pay — even lunch breaks. They say we should shed unions, get rid of environmental and safety regulations, gut government services, and especially, especially, especially we should cut taxes. But America can never be “business-friendly” enough to compete with China, and here is why.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.


Dave Johnson (Redwood City, CA) is a Fellow at Campaign for America's Future, writing about American manufacturing, trade and economic/industrial policy. He is also a Senior Fellow with Renew California.
 Dave has more than 20 years of technology industry experience including positions as CEO and VP of marketing. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. And he was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.


Michigan Unions and Poor Face 85 Hostile Laws
By Evan Rohar, Labor Notes | Report
Protests Rage as Michigan Lawmakers Approve Anti-Union Bills By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report

For more on the assault on American worker rights, check out Steve Fraser’s “The Hollowing Out of America” below: