(born May 10, 1936, Fort Huachuca, Ariz., U.S.) African-American poet especially noted for performing her own poetry, often accompanied by jazz. She recorded several CDs with her band, the Firespitters.
Cortez was artistic director of the Watts Repertory Theatre Company from 1964 to 1970. Unfulfilled love, unromantic sex, and jazz greats from Bessie Smith to Cortez's ex-husband Ornette Coleman are subjects of her first collection of poems, Pissstained Stairs and the Monkey Man's Wares (1969). With the poems of Festivals and Funerals (1971), she turned to larger social issues, including the place of the artist in revolutionary politics. In Scarifications (1973) she examined aspects of the Vietnam War and wrote with a newfound romanticism about a journey to Africa.
The frequent cruelty of Cortez's images and their startling juxtapositions often yield surrealistic effects. These elements and the rhythmic cadences of her lines enhance the impact of her poetry readings, as her recordings show, beginning with Celebrations and Solitudes (1975). Among her later works are Coagulations: New and Selected Poems (1984), Everywhere Drums (1990), Poetic Magnetic (1991), and Somewhere in Advance of Nowhere (1996).
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