Jayne Cortez (10 May 1936 – 28 December 2012)


It is with sadness that we announce that Jayne Cortez passed away at Beth Israel Hospital in New York on Friday 28th December after a short illness, of what is thought to be a viral infection that damaged her heart.


Jayne Cortez was a legendary poet to me and I did not expect to ever meet her – yet I did when, as the co-founder of Organization of Women Writers of Africa (OWWA) with Ama Ato Aidoo, she organised Yari, Yari Pamberi : Black Women Writers Dissenting Globalization at NYU in 2004.


This was a phenomenal meeting of women writers – women’s minds, an incredibly inspiring space and opportunity for women of African (and Asian) descent. It is where I also met wonderful women like Shani Jamila and Sokhna Benga and reconnected with Sapphire and Nawal el Saadawi.


Yari Yari pulled us all together to share an amazing and magical experience – one in which we could truly feel the power and inspiring voices of African women writers across the globe. Every so often when Yari Yari women met, we recalled that time and asked if anyone knew when the next one was going to be and that wherever it was, we would be there! I received an email from Rosamond King in March 2012 whilst attending another conference to say that she was the conference organiser for Yari Yari Ntasao which will take place in Accra, 2013! I immediately replied that of course I was honoured to be invited to participate!


During that same month, I met Rosamond in Cornelia Street Café in New York. She told me that Jayne Cortez would be coming too but I really couldn’t believe it, till she was there sitting opposite me, talking about how SABLE Litmag and the work that we do could partner on Yari Yari Ntasao. Being in the presence of life long activists like Jayne reminds you that the path is not always straight or easy but the work is done because the work has to be done and just by being there, talking to me about how to pull off another major meeting of women’s minds in Africa, re-invigorated me at a time when the plans with SABLE were on one of those crooked paths – but that it would straighten out, in the end.


There are still many stories of remembrance to come of how Jayne Cortez , her poetry, her performance, her life’s work have influenced people. She touched many with her fiery brilliance in words and style and action. I just count myself lucky to have been briefly in the presence of a literary giant.


Thank you, Jayne Cortez, for your long life of inspiration and motivation that you have shared with us and given us to keep .









Jayne Cortez was born May 10 1936 in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and grew up in California. She was the author of ten books of poems and performed her poetry with music on nine recordings. Cortez 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, including Postmodern American Poetry, Daughters of Africa, Poems for the Millennium, Mother Jones, and The Jazz Poetry Anthology.


She was a staunch human rights activist and organizer of ‘Slave Routes the Long Memory’ and ‘Yari, Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writers Dissecting Globalization’, both conferences held at New York University. In 1991, with Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo, she founded the Organization of Women Writers of Africa (OWWA) for which she served as president. She appeared on screen in the films Women In Jazz and Poetry in Motion.


She married Ornette Coleman in 1954 and then divorced him in 1964. They had a son, the jazz drummer Denardo Coleman. In 1976 she married sculptor Mel Edwards. She lived in Dakar, Senegal, and New York City.


Bio courtesy of wikipedia

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