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This Instant: June Jordan and a Black Feminist Poetics of Architecture

This Instant: June Jordan and a Black Feminist Poetics of Architecture

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This document includes all 4 parts of a 4 part meditation on black feminist architecture as informed by the black feminist poet and architect June Jordan.
This document includes all 4 parts of a 4 part meditation on black feminist architecture as informed by the black feminist poet and architect June Jordan.

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Published by: Alexis Pauline Gumbs on Jul 22, 2013
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04/13/2014

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This Instant: June Jordan and a Black Feminist Poetics of Architecture
“This instant and this triumphWe were never meant to survive.”-Audre Lorde, “A Litany for Survival”“Black women’s geographies and poetics challenge us to stay humanby invoking how Black spaces and places are integral to our planetaryand local geographic stories and how the questions of seeable humandifferences puts spatial and philosophical demands on geography. These demands site the struggle between Black women’s geographiesand geographic domination, suggesting that more humanly workablegeographies are continually being lived, expressed, and imagined.”-Katherine McKittrick
Demonic Grounds: Black Women and theCartographies of Struggle
Audre Lorde says that “poetry is the skeleton architecture of ourlives.” So it goes without saying that June Jordan, Black feminist poetgenius was an architect. I can see her hand, her choices in words inthe scaffoldings of my everyday. June Jordan was an architect. Theonly problem is that with the exception of some recent work by theenvironmental justice scholar Cheryl J. Fish on what she calls the“architextual” collaboration between R. Buckminster Fuller and June Jordan, is that is does go without saying. As in no one says it. June Jordan was an architect. In fact let’s shift that right now. Turn to theperson next to you and say it right now. “June Jordan was anarchitect.” This matters because the number of Black womenarchitects in the United States can still fit in one room. And it mattersbecause June Jordan’s architecture, her development of a Blackfeminist practice that centers how we create and transform space is a
 
key part of her contribution to our political imaginary and challengesall of those who recognize and celebrate and live inside her legacy tothink and act rigorously when it comes to space. Just so you knowthat this is not merely an exercise in reclaiming every form of intellectual knowledge as the domain of Black feminist genius, (thoughit is also that), I want to let you know that among June Jordan’sarchitectural credentials are that she was awarded a prestigiousfellowship at the American Academy in Rome in architecture, that herarchitectural plans were published in national publications, (althoughas we will see not always attributed to her) and most importantly (inmy very biased view) that she was mentored by Fannie Lou Hamer,who actively built farming structures for Black collective power inMississippi and who theorized access to land and food as a crucialelement of Black enfranchisement. So in honor of June Jordan, thearchitect. (You might notice that part of my practice is to over say theundersaid), and as a manifestation of how Katherine McKittrick affirmsthat Black women’s relationships to space site the struggle and stakesof transformation, I will use this presentation as an opportunity tocreate a Black feminist space in this instant as triumph.
Site 1
The Bottom of the Barrel
When June Jordan imagined “Skyrise for Harlem,” thearchitectural plan that will be the model for this ritual of recitation and
 
resituation, she was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Afterwitnessing the Harlem riots in 1964, June Jordan abruptly found outthat she was a newly single mother. She also offers frankly in areflection in her first collection of essays, Civil Wars, “There was nomoney. Those days I didn’t eat.” Her son Christopher had to stay withher parents because she could not feed him. Sometimes friendsdropped off milk and eggs and scotch and cigarettes. The money thatshe eventually got from selling her article about the architectural plan“Skyrise for Harlem” a plan in collaboration with her close friend R.Buckminster Fuller, was the only money that she had. On December24
th
1964 the money finally came and she was able to get Christopherback and assemble a semblance of Christmas. There was no money. Those days I did not eat. Some of June Jordan’s cousins have gone onrecord saying June Jordan was dramatic. She exaggerated. But I haveseen the records of June Jordan’s phone getting cut off, I have seen themedical records that show the impact of poverty on her physical andpsychological health. And knowing that for June Jordan who loved andadmired her parents, but who also experienced abuse growing up intheir home, I trust that it was really dire circumstances that had hermake the difficult choice to send her son to live with her parents at thisparticularly bleak economic time in her writing life. This is important to state because for those of us who knowanything about her, June Jordan is a miracle. It is as if her life and her

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