About Jacqueline McRath
While reading [Ted] Joans’ book Afrodisia and struggling through a French copy of Black Power, Jackie realized, “I can do this too.””
Ms. Jackie McRath grew up in a close-knit kinship network in Anniston, Alabama, the second Black-incorporated municipality in the United States and also the location where the Freedom Riders bus was burned in 1961. Jackie is the second-oldest of six children. Growing up surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins instilled confidence and inspired creativity in young Jackie. Her Uncle Charles L. McRath, an English, art, and choral teacher, played a pivotal role in Jackie’s interest in the arts. He taught Jackie piano starting at age 9 and shared his soundtracks with her that included Nina Simone, George Benson, Nancy Wilson, Shirley Bassey, Liberace, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
She first came to Boston as a live-in housekeeper when she was 18, and it’s been home ever since. One day after work at an insurance company, she went to a favorite Federal St. used bookstore and picked up a thick copy of Europe on $5 a Day. That book inspired her to become an au pair in Paris in 1972 as a way to learn French and see the world. While exploring Paris’ Left Bank, she had a serendipitous encounter with Beat Generation poet and artist Ted Joans, who became her “creative inspiration.” They corresponded over the course of 25 years, and she became his booking representative when he visited the United States. While reading Joans’ book Afrodisia and struggling through a French copy of Black Power, Jackie realized, “I can do this too.” She was intrigued with who he dedicated poems to and all the places he was writing about and wondered, “What did these people mean to him?” In the early 1970s Joans encouraged Jackie to visit Africa, which she did on several occasions. These trips to Africa were life-changing for Jackie and became the subject of some of her poetry.
Jackie’s poems have been published in Ideal Woman, UMMA, Ibbetson Street, and others. She continues to hone her craft through attending poetry workshops and seeking feedback from instructors like the late Sam Cornish, the first poet laureate of Boston, Danielle Legros Georges, the second poet laureate of Boston, Barbara Helfgott Hyett, Brenda Wolcott, Askia M. Toure’, a founder of the field of Afro-American studies. In addition to writing her own poetry, Jackie has a gift for discovering, promoting, and connecting other creatives, including poets, musicians, and visual artists, many of whom she met through the South End’s Piano Craft Gallery. As part of the South End/Roxbury arts community since 1975, Jackie provided support to the Southwest Corridor Literary Project that selected poetry and prose now displayed on granite pillars that line the MBTA Orange Line from the New England Medical Center to Forest Hills stations. If you walk through the Ruggles Station, keep an eye out for her Boston University poetry professor Sam Allen’s poem, “Harriet Tubman aka Moses,” etched in a granite pillar. In 1978 Jackie and Luix V. Overbea, a Northeastern journalism professor, writer for the Christian Science Monitor, and TV personality, founded the New England Contemporary Writers Guild.
In addition to supporting the arts, Jackie also taught in the Boston Public Schools for over 20 years. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Boston University, a master’s in Infant/Toddler Development from Wheelock College, and a master’s in Technical and Professional Writing from Northeastern University. She is proud to carry on the legacy of deceased South End textile artist and educator Theresa-India Young through managing her estate with the assistance and support of local fiber and 2-D artists. They have awarded six $1000 scholarships in the Fibers Program at Mass Art, which was Theresa-India’s final wish. She is grateful to be included in this project because it has launched her Chronology of Artists Project, which has lived only in her mind for the last seven years.