Jayne Cortez: A Star is Dimmed

Est. read time: 3 min

It is with profound sadness that I write about the passing of Jayne Cortez, globally renowned poet and cultural activist and a dear friend of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books and its successor, the George Padmore Institute.

I was a member of the Book Fair organizing committee and a founder trustee of the George Padmore Institute.

Many will recall Jayne’s electrifying poetry readings at the Book Fair festival and her participation in the literary debates at the Book Fair.  The very first Book Fair in 1982 was opened by the late CLR James and was followed by annual and then bi-annual fairs until 1995.  Jayne attended most if not all and was a star performer at poetry evenings at the Book Fair festival.  She thus became a well-loved member of the International Book Fair family.

"Untitled" by T. Carrigan (Flickr - CC BY-ND 2.0)

“Untitled” by T. Carrigan (Flickr – CC BY-ND 2.0)

On 30 March 2011, she treated us to an evening of poetry at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon Road, London, in a programme organized jointly by the George Padmore Institute and Free Word and fittingly called ‘Shaking Things Up’.

The flyer for the poetry evening provided a helpful pen sketch of Jayne Cortez and her accomplishments:

Jayne Cortez will read from a selection of her poetry which spans over four decades, and which tells of the struggle for black social liberation and for radical political and social change in the USA and beyond. Cortez’s uncompromising poems are also fiercely free form with jazz inflections that take the audience on an unparalleled journey of music and words.

Jayne Cortez was born in Arizona, grew up in Los Angeles and lives in New York City. She is the author of twelve books of poetry and performer of her poems with music on nine recordings. Her voice is celebrated for its political, surrealistic, dynamic innovations in lyricism and visceral sound. Her most recent books are On The Imperial Highway and Jazz Fan Looks Back.  Her latest CDs with the Firespitter Band are Find Your Own VoiceBorders of Disorderly Time and Taking the Blues Back Home. Jayne Cortez is president and cofounder with Ama Ata Aidoo of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa Inc. She is organizer of international symposiums and director of the films ‘Slave Routes: Resistance, Abolition & Creative Progress’ and ‘Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writers Dissecting Globalization’.

She is the recipient of numerous awards.

On 2 April 2011, Jayne Cortez delivered the second John La Rose Memorial Lecture at Leeds Metropolitan University, hosted jointly by the George Padmore Institute and LMU, to an audience of cultural and political activists, members of the Leeds community and students and academics.  John La Rose was director of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books and until he died in 2006 was Founder Chairman of the George Padmore Institute.

Jayne passed on yesterday, 28 December, having been ill for the last two months.  She married Ornette Coleman in 1954 and divorced him in 1964. She was the mother of jazz drummer Denardo Coleman.

In 1976 she married sculptor Melvin Edwards.  She died in hospital in New York City where she and Mel lived.

Our sister has gone to light up the skies and fire up the Ancestors even as she lit fires in our bellies through her being and her words.  Her words are immortal as is her spirit. We were privileged to have her as the medium that crafted and delivered those words so powerfully and relevantly in our time and for all time.

Our love, our hearts and our prayers go out on behalf of Mel and Denardo and their entire family at this time.

Picture credits: “Jayne Cortez at the Poetry Project“, by T. Carrigan (Flickr – CC BY-ND 2.0)

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