Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jayne Cortez at SIUE in 2005

Jayne Cortez signing autographs at SIUE after a reading, October 2005
What sad news -- the passing of poet Jayne Cortez a couple of days ago. She'd been a prominent figure in poetry, especially realms of African American poetry, since she first came on the scene during the black arts era. Early on and throughout her career, she was performing and recording her poetry with jazz musicians.

I first read and listened to much of her work when I was a graduate student at Penn State University. So I was pleased when just two years into my time at SIUE I was co-organizing a symposium with my colleague Eugene B. Redmond that would feature Cortez and her band. Redmond arranged for Cortez to perform on campus, give a talk the next day, and read her poetry that evening with a group of other writers, including Haki Madhubuti in East St. Louis.

Reflecting back on the time she was here, I was struck by how soft-spoken she was in comparison to her presence on the stage. When she wasn't performing or reading, she listened, watched attentively, and smiled as others spoke. Seeing these different Cortez', seeing the broad range of this one intrigued me.

Looking back, I'm glad Redmond made it possible for so many of us to spend so much time with Cortez and that she was willing. Hearing her read poems with and without a jazz group, listening to read an essay and reflect on the black arts era, and conversing with her about poetry, and observing her interacting with my students was really a set of wonderful opportunities.

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