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CORTEZ, JAYNE (1936- ) A poet who first came to wide notice during the rise of the black arts movement, Jayne Cortez's work brings forth the dias-poric influences of negritude and negrismo, jazz-inflected traditions of contemporary black American verse. She has pursued her own course through the most innovative of 20th-century modes of composition, following Léopold Senghor in the movement from surrealism to an African-derived poetics they both prefer to call "super realism." She writes at a certain moment in history, like the Aimé Césaire of her poem in tribute to him (1996), a "moment of no compromise" when "his poetry became poetry unique to poetry." In 1969 she published her first volume of poetry, Pissstained Stairs and the Monkey Man's Wares.
Cortez was born on May 10, 1936, in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Like Jay wright, she is a poet whose career underscores the contributions of the American Southwest to African-American literature. She spent most of her youth in Los Angeles, where she did important early work among musicians and artists in such venues as the Ebony Showcase and the Watts Repertory Theater Company. During this same period, she traveled to Mississippi to participate in voter registration drives. Her activism has continued throughout her life, as in her work on the 1997 conference "Yari Yari, Black Women Writers and the Future." In 1954 Cortez married composer and musician Ornette Coleman. Their son, Denardo, has taken an active role in his mother's works, combining poetry with music. Cortez has also been one of the most prolific recording jazz poets, releasing a series of recitations to jazz accompaniment. The marriage to Coleman ended, and in 1975 she married visual artist Melvin Edwards. Edwards has contributed artwork to many of Cortez's most significant books. Cortez migrated to New York in 1967. Among her awards are the American Book Award (1980) and the Langston Hughes Medal (2001). To date she has published seven major collections of verse.
Cortez weds intensely physical imagery to progressive politics and a free-verse line built out of the rhythms of blues and jazz. In "Poetry" (1996), she contrasts her aesthetic to poems that "are like flags / flying on liquor store roof." Hers is an "unsubmissive blues," a poetry, like the dance of Josephine Baker described in "So Many Feathers" (1977), that earns a "rosette of resistance."
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