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Fri, 07.19.1946

Judy Juanita, Poet, and Playwright born

Judy Juanita

*Judy Juanita was born on this date in 1946.  She is a Black poet, novelist, educator, and playwright.  

Born Judith Hart in Berkeley, California, she grew up in Oakland. At age 16, she began attending Oakland City College, transferring to San Francisco State University as a junior. She was a member of the school's Black Student Union. After Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale were recruited at the university, she joined the Black Panther Party (BPP) in 1967.  Juanita lived in one of their safe houses on Potrero Hill while she edited The Black Panther, the Party's newspaper, and worked on the BPP's Free Breakfast for Children program. 

She received her BA in psychology and MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State.  Juanita taught at San Francisco State University as a Black Psychology and Black Journalism instructor in the first Black Studies program in the United States. Juanita attended the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley in 1992.  From 1992-2007, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a political theater in the parks, toured "Knocked Up," which she co-wrote with Tina Tree Murch. 

Juanita's writing is archived at Duke University in the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture, alongside the archives of student activists from SNCC.  Eleven of her plays are archived at the Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute, Ohio State University (OSU), where her full-length play, "Theodicy," won a major prize in the Eileen Heckart Senior Play Competition 2008.  In 2012 she attended the Vermont Studio Center and Breadloaf Writers' conferences. In 2013, Juanita's poem "Bling" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

In her semi-autobiographical novel Virgin Soul (Viking, 2013), a black teen starts community college in Oakland, struggles to matriculate, and then joins the Black Panther Party (BPP). The story of the female foot soldier in the Black Power movement, Virgin Soul, exposes the unheralded women working behind the scenes in the BPP and the Black student movement.   In 2015, her essay "The Gun as Ultimate Performance Poem" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has written 17 plays performed in the Bay Area, L.A., NYC, Winston-Salem, and Minneapolis.  

A distinguished finalist in OSU's Non/Fiction Collection Prize 2016, her collection of essays is the account of the feminist foot soldier.  In 2014 and 2015, Juanita's short story collection The High Cost of Freeways was a finalist in the Donna Tartt First Fiction Contest. Her short story "Cabbie" appears in Akashic Press' noir series, Oakland Noir, published in 2017.  Juanita has been a Buddhist since 1980 and is a writing teacher at Laney College. 

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