Date Awarded

Summer 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Susan V Donaldson

Committee Member

Charles F McGovern

Committee Member

Arthur Knight

Committee Member

Bill Cole


From the 1960s, through the Black Arts Movement, until her sudden death in December 2012, Jayne Cortez used her dynamic voice to fight oppression. as the first multiple-chapter study of Cortez’s musical collaborations, this dissertation adds to a growing body of critical work that examines Cortez’s radical poetry. In her “African Confluences” keynote address at Rutgers University, Cortez described herself as a member of a global community of black writers “protesting and calling for an end to self degradation, self fragmentation, self-corruption, and self-fear and selfishness… Poets using the image of Blackness to mean continuity, confidence, creativity and new possibilities.” Cortez created new possibilities through her collaborations with artists and writers across the African diaspora, including American free jazz musicians who worked alongside traditional West African master musicians. Cortez traveled extensively and cultivated lifelong relationships with musicians who challenged boundaries between artistic genres to create a distinctly kinetic form of jazz-inflected poetry that gave voices to black Americans and people displaced across the African diaspora. Cortez’s sustained collaborations with Bill Cole, Denardo Coleman, and her Firespitters band produced unparalleled multivocal cross-genre conversations that embodied the collective spirit of jazz improvisation. “‘When I Put on My Firespitter Mask’: Jayne Cortez’s (R)Evolutionary Musical Poetic Collaborations” offers a chronological analysis of selected collaborative performances and recordings with musicians. Beginning with her earliest collaborations, Cortez’s poetry blended elements of surrealism, Pan-Africanism, ecofeminism, performative poetics, and black vernacular music into dialogic calls to action that embodied diasporic community building through harmolodic improvisation and musical call and response. This dissertation applies the aforementioned theoretical frameworks to close readings and historical contextualization of multiple revisions of eleven poems, including poems published in out-of-print chapbooks, studio recordings, live recordings, unreleased live performance recordings, and uncatalogued documents such as poem drafts, journals, and handwritten performance notes located in fifteen boxes Cortez donated to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The appendices provide the most comprehensive timeline and list of Cortez’s publications available to date, with the intention of providing points of departure for forthcoming critical explorations of Cortez’s archive of over 400 poems and more than ninety recorded musical collaborations.




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