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Affirmative Acts
by June Jordan

Affirmative Acts

Reviewed by Kelly Hanson

Affirmatively Beautiful

In her book Affirmative Acts June Jordan takes readers on a political and social journey through the 1990s. The book is a collection of essays that directly respond to particular political, historical, and intimate moments. Jordan's style of writing is a wonderful mix of the political and personal that draws a reader into the realm of social action. If words can move an American off of the proverbial couch, June Jordan's words will do it.

The collection is laid out in such a way to allow a reader to follow Jordan's emotions in times of societal stress, turmoil, peace, and goodness. Readers are taken from early 1990 all the way through 1998, in order of occurrence. Not only does this book allow a reader interesting political insight, but also a chance to view the events of the early 90s as history. Jordan relates, "We will have to embrace what my friend Peter Sellars invokes as 'history as creative process,' or we will merely become more fluently backward, more perfectly stuck in what the past can tell us about the past, good and evil, alike" (125). This refreshing perspective on past events is one reason that Affirmative Acts is a compelling and moving piece of literature.

Another refreshing aspect of Jordan's book is her mix of genre and form. She doesn't stick to one way of stating things or one representation of ideas. Jordan moves essay into artistry with her mixture of feeling and fact. Brutal statistics on social welfare are followed up with a harrowing anecdote or a moving piece of poetry. Doing this allows readers to really feel the social problems she writes about. Through verse, story, and language, Jordan weaves a tale of American politics and presence that is both disturbing and beautiful. In her essay "I am Seeking an Attitude," Jordan highlights what it truly means to her to be a woman. She begins the essay with a more formal essay tone. She begins with questions about what woman means and why she has trouble. However, the essay quickly turns into a long prose poem about the injustices faced by women and why women should stand up for what they believe. The acceptability of the essay is combined with the radical ideals of the poem. This really leaves an impact on readers as evident in her last words of the essay, "I am a woman. And I think I have found my attitude. And I think, really, it's about: "Let's get it on" (Jordan, 41). As the rhythm of the essay moves into poetry readers feel the urgency of her message. The use of different genres really enhances Jordan's work.

Don't expect to walk away from Jordan's book feeling good about yourself and your country. Aspects of these essays will rip at you personally or your personal group. She may force one to question the present state of affairs and mindsets of entire generations. Her biting statistics and opinions about social injustice and political policy will move readers to tears and hopefully to action. She does not seem to want readers to leave with the happy, but to leave with the heavy. Jordan writes a couple of essays on Valentine's Day. She uses a holiday usually associated with love and sappy happiness to remind others of the horrors that occur in the world today. She writes, "In Brazil, one woman in nine is an AIDS victim. In Africa, the number of orphans created by AIDS will increase, during the next eight years to ten to fifteen million" (Jordan, 24). She contrasts this idea with the idea of taking a "long hot bubbly bath with someone wonderful. " The image of the well off people celebrating their personal love contrasted with the increasing AIDS victims really gets to the hearts of readers.

Along with the call to political action, she is not afraid to address any issue that needs action. From rape to affirmative action to the Gulf War, June Jordan will make a reader think about each instance. She puts them into her shoes, the shoes of a Somali woman in 1992, a gay man in California, or those of the President of the United States. This book brings issues forth that readers may not even recognize or know about. A caution about the subject matter--it may make you angry, it may upset, it may make you cry, but it is definitely worth the read.

All of the essays in the book Affirmative Acts are not about the same subject matter or necessarily about the same area of the nation. The great part is that all of them will resound and all of them will comment on the predicament of U.S. politics in relation to these places. Jordan has the amazing ability to make the personal political and the political personal. She writes of her childhood memories, and relates them to the struggle to overcome breast cancer in the United States. She will tell a story of Nelson Mandela and show readers how to use his example in America today. The resonances of others' struggles pull the reader into the book and make them want to be politically active. Even if you aren't particularly political you could read these essays for enjoyment.

Affirmative Acts by June Jordan will continue to resonate with the public and call them into action versus complacency with everyday oppressive situations. She may have lost her battle with breast cancer, but her works will live on and continue to influence generations to come.