Arts in the Valley host Kim McMillon interviews Judy Juanita, the author of Virgin Soul, about her life as a former member of the Black Panther Party, and Estella Dunn, the President of the Merced Branch of the National Council of Negro Women about their membership drive.
To listen to Judy Juanita, click onto the link:judy juanita
Judy Juanita is an unusual and provocative writer who crosses the boundaries of genre, utilizing narrative, dialogue and journalism in poetry and fiction to probe social issues. A novelist, poet and playwright, her debut novel, Virgin Soul, about a young black woman coming of age in the 60s who joins the Black Panther Party, comes out from Viking on April 22. It has been excerpted in Crab Orchard Review, November 3rd Club, Imagination and Place: an anthology, and Rooms.
Novelist Jean Thompson said of Virgin Soul: “Hard to believe it’s been almost fifty years since the formation of the Black Panthers. The novel captures that time’s particular combination of violence and possibility, and the urgency of young people who invested everything in the possibility of change, even as grand rhetoric was undercut by very human failings. Geniece is smart, wounded, hopeful, and tough. It’s a pleasure to grow with her through these pages.”
Crab Orchard Review’s Allison Joseph said that Juanita’s fiction “should be required reading for anyone studying the vicissitudes of recent American history.”
Her poetry has appeared in Obsidian II, 13th Moon, Painted Bride Quarterly, Croton Review, The Passaic Review, Lips, New Verse News, Poetry Monthly and Drumrevue 2000. Ultimately, as critic Jendi Reiter said, her “hybrid poetic form liberates Juanita to include sentences that would feel too wordy and technical in a traditional lyric poem.” Referring to Juanita’s use of controversial language, Reiter said, “Some interesting postmodern themes arise…about language that points to its own inadequacy, yet cannot be silent. It’s also about the disjunction between signifier and signified. Repeat a word often enough and it starts to sound strange, almost nonsensical.”
In drama, Juanita’s themes are social issues overlaid with absurdity, humor and pathos (in one play, a distraught nurse whose teenage son has overdosed falls head over heels in love with a duck). Her seventeenth play, “Theodicy,” about two black men who accidentally fall into the river of death, won first runner-up of 186 plays in the Eileen Heckart 2008 Senior Drama Competition at the Ohio State University.
“Counter-Terrorism” was produced at The Marsh, SF, 2008, and at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival 2004. This play about a homeless truth teller and her bourgeois counterpart began as a one-woman play, self-produced and self-directed, before becoming a two character full-length drama.
She co-wrote “Knocked Up,” a commedia dell’Arte about the morning-after pill. The play, which toured periodically from 1993-2006 with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, challenged the status quo when the men in a village, having denied a woman birth control, become pregnant and bloated.
Another play, “Heaven’s Hold,” was produced at Brava! Theatre, SF and the National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Since 2005, five of her plays have been produced at Julia Morgan Theatre in Berkeley, under the auspices of Woman’s Will, the Bay Area’s all-female Shakespearean company.
Judy Juanita’s poetry has appeared in Obsidian II, 13th Moon, Croton Review, The Passaic Review, Lips, New Verse News, Poetry Monthly, Drumrevue 2000 and Painted Bride Quarterly.
She was awarded New Jersey Arts Council Fellowships for her poetry and an MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University. She taught writing at Laney College in Oakland, California, from 1993-2012.
For more information about novelist Judy Juanita, please visit,
To listen to Estella Dunn, click onto the link:
Estella Dunn is currently employed by the County of Merced with the Department of Mental Health for 15 years. Estella is the President of the National Council of Negro Women; Secretary for Love, Faith & Hope, Inc.; and Board member for Circles Merced. She believes her greatest achievement was the launching of the first African American Youth Conference by the NCNW.
The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) is a non-profit organization with the mission to advance the opportunities and the quality of life for African American women, their families and communities. NCNW fulfills this mission through research, advocacy, national and community based services and programs in the United States and Africa. With its 28 national affiliate organizations and its more than 200 community based sections, NCNW has an outreach to nearly four million women, all contributing to the peaceful solutions to the problems of human welfare and rights. The national headquarters, which acts as a central source for program planning, is based in Washington, D.C., on Pennsylvania Avenue, located between the White House and the U.S. Capitol. NCNW also has two field offices.
The NCNW was founded in 1935 by Mary McLeod Bethune, child of slave parents, distinguished educator, and government consultant. Mary McLeod Bethune saw the need for harnessing the power and extending the leadership of African American women through a national organization.