His Own Where
June Jordan was the very best kind of revolutionary: someone whose love and fearlessness were boundless, someone who never told anything less than the absolute truth, someone who measured out joyfulness and rage in equal parts. A prolific essayist and poet, Jordan died of breast cancer in 2002, leaving behind her an extraordinary body of work as beautiful as it is impassioned.
His Own Where, first published in 1971 and recently reissued by The Feminist Press, is something of a departure for Jordan, who wrote very little fiction. One of her earliest books, the novel was a finalist for the National Book Award and offered considerable evidence that Jordan would go on to be, as the poet Sapphire notes in the book's new introduction, "a political essayist without peer." But His Own Where is even more remarkable for the purity of its language, its sheer exuberant beauty, and the distinct and brilliantly original craftsmanship in every sentence.
The story itself is deceptively simple: Buddy and Angela, two poor African American teenagers in 1960s Brooklyn, meet, fall in love, and run away (from adults, from Angela's abusive parents, from Buddy's oppressive school) to the temporary sanctuary of each other. But there's not a single wasted word in this skinny book, not a sentence that's less than perfect; every phrase is marked by a poet's ear for the possibility of language. Buddy and Angela "become the heated habit of each other." You can feel each sentence in your mouth, rich and dense and begging to be read aloud. Jordan captures perfectly the intense, manic joyfulness of falling in love for the first time.
There's not a moment in the book that feels dated (with the possible exception of a scene where Buddy purchases multiple cups of coffee and chocolate bars with $1.75), and even now, forty years after its original publication, His Own Where feels like something that's never been done before. His Own Where does more than just talk about love; Buddy and Angela deal with the often menacing and oppressive forces of the adult world, the constraints of prejudice and oppression, and the difficulty of surviving in a difficult and sometimes unsurvivable city.
But there's nothing bleak or hopeless about this book. Love and hope abound on every page, and there's plenty of gleeful humor—most notably, a scene where Buddy organizes the boys at his school to campaign for comprehensive sex education (luckily that sort of thing would never have to happen today, now that all young adults have totally unrestricted access to information about safe sex and contraceptives). Buddy "be worrying about old people when they think that love be dangerous."
Start here, if you've never read Jordan, and then dive right in to her magnificent, searing, and gorgeous essays; and if you're not burning down the master's house when you've finished, you're dead to the world.