In 1976 writer and activist June Jordan outlined a proposed novel titled “Okay Now!” beginning with the powerful statement: “We must learn to share the earth, while there is still time to try.” Written during a watershed moment in Black environmental consciousness in the early 1970s, the unpublished novel centers Black social and economic vulnerability within an analysis of the American landscape and, articulating a vision for terraforming mississippi-america, a radical but practical reterritorialization through the collective reimagining of property and urban and rural relations shaped by her encounters with Black Mississippi freedom organizers.
Usually associated with the remaking of another planet for human inhabitance, terraforming here encompasses Jordan’s critique of the current order of things as unlivable and the radical re-envisioning of the landscape on the future horizon as a space that might support Black possibility and futurity superseding the histories of slavery, violence, and ecological degradation.
In describing Jordan’s efforts as terraforming, scholar J.T. Roane draws attention to her search for a more just social-spatial-environmental order through her use of literature, essays, and poetry to compel ordinary people to view themselves as holding the keys to a radical reformulation of the future landscape.
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J.T. Roane is assistant professor of Africana studies and geography and Andrew W. Mellon chair in global racial justice at the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice at Rutgers University. He received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, and he is a 2008 graduate of the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia. His book Dark Agoras: Insurgent Black Social Life and the Politics of Place was published in 2023 by New York University Press. His short experimental film Plot received support from Princeton’s Crossroads Fellowship. He also currently serves as a member of Just Harvest—Tidewater, an Indigenous- and Black-led organization building toward food sovereignty and justice in Virginia’s historical plantation region through political and practical education. He is a 2023–24 visiting scholar in the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History.
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Presented by the Environmental Humanities at Brown initiative at the Cogut Institute for the Humanities.