Juliet P. Howard, a.k.a. JP Howard, was born on August 8. She is a Black lesbian poet, author, educator, activist, wife, “mama,” and curator of Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon. Howard is also a Cave Canem graduate fellow.
Howard was born in New York City to Adolphus Cornelius Howard, a security guard, and Ruth King, a well-known Harlem runway and print model in the 1940s and 1950s, and a clerical supervisor in the New York Courts. “I grew up in Sugar Hill, Harlem, an only child of a single mama,” Howard recalls. “My maternal grandmother, known to everyone as Mama Pearl, was a domestic worker, and moved in with us when I was about 12 years old. They both co-raised me during those formative years, and growing up, I was very close to both of them.”
Howard graduated from Murray Bergtraum High School before attending Barnard College, where she earned her BA in English. It was during her college years that Howard came out of the closet—a process that Howard describes as initially “painful.”
“I was devastated when my grandmother called me a ‘bulldagger’ [a slang word for a very butch lesbian, historically used to describe African American lesbians],” Howard says. “I always remember how she responded in shock and disgust…it hurt me to the core, because we were, up until that moment, a very small and tight-knit family. We were three strong Black women and each of us were only children. But my grandmother was also a religious Black woman who had migrated up North from the deep South, so it took some time for our relationship to heal.”
Eventually, both Howard’s mother and grandmother came to love and accept her as a lesbian. Howard had the opportunity to return that kind of support when her oldest son, Jordan, came out to Howard and her wife when he was 15 years old. “It felt so beautiful to be able to support and celebrate him, and put him in touch with resources available for queer youth,” Howard says. “We are so proud of him…five years later, he is a powerful and brilliant Black queer man, and advocates for both Black and LGBTQ lives on his California college campus.”
Since 2011, Howard has curated and nurtured the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (WWBPS), which brings writers together each month to produce new work in interactive writing workshops. Many of the new poets and authors are queer women of color. WWBPS is a literary salon series modeled after traveling salons popular during the Harlem Renaissance.
Howard is the author of the chaplet “bury your love poems here” (published by Belladonna*), and is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her poetry has been featured in the Emotive Fruition performance series, and her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets, Apogee Journal, The Feminist Wire, Split this Rock, Nepantla: A Journal for Queer Poets of Color, PLUCK! Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture, Serendipity Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Adrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer Women, The Best American Poetry Blog, MiPOesias, Mom Egg Review, Talking Writing, Connotation Press, and the Black Lesbian Literary Collective. Anthologies where Howard’s work will or have appeared include “Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos,” “Brooklyn Poets Anthology, Happy Hours—Our Lives in the Gay Bars,” and “Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander.”
In 2016, “SAY/MIRROR,” Howard’s debut poetry collection published by The Operating System, was a Lambda Literary finalist; the collection also features photos from her childhood and of her mother. That same year, she was selected as a Judith Markowitz Emerging Writers Award winner from the Lambda Literary Foundation, was ranked #15 in Velvetpark Magazine’s Official 25 Queer Women of 2016, and was selected as one of GO Magazine’s 100 Women We Love! Howard was also named editor-at-large for Mom Egg Review online.
Earlier this year, Howard was a finalist for Split This Rock’s Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, and was featured in the 2017 Lesbian Poet Trading Card series from Headmistress Press. Howard also married her “soul mate and best friend” Norma. The couple met in the mid-1990s, and Howard says, “We’ve learned together that relationships are work; if you want them to work and if you stick with it, the journey actually gets better with time. I’m so glad we’ve stuck with it!” In addition to their son, Jordan, they are parents to 12-year-old Nicholas. Their family was featured in “Gay Parent” magazine in 2014, including a cover photo and an interview.
“My beautiful queer family is made up of activists and agents of change,” says Howard. “I’m so proud of each of us, and love watching our two sons blossom—they are both brilliant beams of light. Much of my poetry is written from the perspective of a Black mother raising two Black sons (suns) in America, and both the angst and joy that it entails.” One of Howard’s favorite poems on that topic, originally published in the Feminist Wire, is “We Beautiful Black Boys.”
Howard says she is all about collaborating with community, and facilitates writing workshops and panels about the fierceness of Black lesbian poets. Her workshops, panels, and appearances include The Brooklyn Community Pride Center; Fire & Ink: A Writers Festival for GLBT People of African Descent (Detroit, MI, 2015); Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) (Tampa, FL, 2018, Washington, DC, 2017, Los Angeles, CA, 2016, Minneapolis, 2015, and Seattle, WA 2014); The Lesbian Herstory Archives; The LGBT Community Center (NYC); The Black Lesbian DIY Fest (2014 and 2015); and the inaugural Beyond Bold and Brave: Black Lesbian Conference (Barnard College, March 2016).
Howard has been recently commissioned to serve as a scholar-advisor for Humanities New York, and to create its inaugural reading and discussion series on the works of Audre Lorde. She is also a scholar-facilitator for the organizations, and facilitated the reading and discussion series, “James Baldwin’s America,” at The Brooklyn Community Pride Center. Howard is currently guest editing a special issue of “Sinister Wisdom Journal” with her good friend and “fierce” poet, Amber Atiya, scheduled to be published in January 2018.
“It has been amazing to read powerful work and view stunning artwork of Black lesbians from around the country and other parts of the world,” says Howard of the “Black Lesbians: We are the Revolution!” issue, which was inspired by inspirational words from poet Pat Parker: “The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I would call a revolution.” Howard credits the powerful voices of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker with giving her the courage to become the person she is today.
Howard lives in New York, where she loves spending time with her “sweet” family, hanging out with friends at poetry events, traveling, going to the movies, and exploring the city by foot. An unapologetic only child, Howards says that sometimes she just enjoys quiet time with herself. When not writing and being a mom, Howard is a practicing attorney in housing court public interest law. In addition to earning her Juris Doctor degree from Brooklyn Law School, she received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the City College of New York.
We thank Juliet P. “JP” Howard for her numerous contributions to the written word, her activism, and for her steadfast support for our community. We also include here one of her favorite works, what she calls “a glimpse into the lens through which I see the world, as a Black queer womyn in America.”
bedtime poem for america
By JP Howard
this body is black is blue is you
you a country i won’t ever trust
this country is foreign
this foreign is familiar
tastes almost like home
like mama’s peach cobbler gone bad
this blue is my body
this red is my blood
this blood tastes like home
these stars sewn on
black of my skin
shine when night comes
i wear this tattoo for you
spread your white sheets on my bed
tomorrow i will rip you to shreds