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BOMB THE ROOT: The June Jordan Interview

In this 1995 interview culled from BOMB Magazine’s digital archives, poet June Jordan talks about race in Los Angeles, crime television and how she ended up making an opera.


We wanted to end our BOMB The Root series with a star, and so, we chose the late, great, June Jordan. A poet, writer, professor and opera fan—as we will learn—June Jordan was a fantastic and unique voice in African-American literature and social activism.

Born to Jamaican parents in Harlem, Jordan spent her adolescent years living in Bedford-Stuyvesant before matriculating to Barnard College. She began her teaching career at City College of New York, and taught at Sarah Lawrence, Yale University and CUNY Stonybrook. In 1989, she moved out west to become a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

In this BOMB Magazine interview from 1995, Jordan discusses how she became the unlikely author of an opera at age 59 and what she learned from her experience collaborating with composer John Adams and famed theater director Peter Sellars. The work, I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, premiered in Berkeley in 1995 before being staged at Lincoln Center later that year.

Through the discussion of her opera, Jordan touches on many of the same issues discussed by other artists in our series: race in Los Angeles, the mixing of high- and low-brow art forms and the need to bring fully realized minority characters to the stage. Jordan ends the interview by articulating a desire integral to the work of all artists in the series, and certainly all artists who strive to better represent themselves and their communities through their work. In her words:

"I thought that this context would automatically confer a dignity and stature to these young men and women that otherwise might not be available to them."