Jayne Cortez was an African-American poet, activist, small press publisher and spoken-word performance artist whose voice is celebrated for its political, surrealistic and dynamic innovations in lyricism and visceral sound.
Cortez was born Sallie Jayne Richardson on the Army base at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, on May 10, 1934. Her father was a career soldier who would serve in both world wars; her mother was a secretary.
At the age of seven, she moved to Los Angeles, where she grew up in the Watts district. Young Jayne Richardson reveled in the jazz and Latin recordings that her parents collected. She studied art, music and drama in high school and later attended Compton Community College. She took the surname Cortez, the maiden name of her maternal grandmother, early in her artistic career. In 1954, Cortez married jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman when she was 18 years old.
In 1969 her first collection, Pissstained Stairs and the Monkey Man’s Wares, was published and Cortez went on to become the author of 11 other books of poems, and performed her poetry with music on nine recordings. Most of her work was issued under the auspices of Bola Press, a publishing company she founded in 1971. She presented her work and ideas at universities, museums, and festivals in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, the Caribbean and the United States. Cortez died of heart failure in Manhattan, New York, on December 28, 2012.