Jessica Holter: Writer, Visionary, Community Servant
Community Service & Philanthropy:
Foster Care Issues
Sitting in a cafe, she sips coffee and hides behind a massive mane of curly red hair. She tells the story of the day she realized, Black was not romanced in American culture. "When I was a struggling writer, I went to this bookstore, in Oakland. That's where I am from. The book buyer rejected almost everything, except set of African American romance novels. This was way back, before Zane. This was like Harlequin, only Black, you dig? The lady looked at the books and said "Black Romance, what a novel idea." Man, I felt shame taking the money from a woman who did not even understand that Black people can have romance. It always stuck with me, those words. Black Romance, what a novel idea... That was the name of my first publishing company, A Novel Idea."
Jessica Holter is World famous for creating The Punany Project in 1995 after the untimely death of rapper Eazy E of AIDS Complications. She was a hip-hop journalist when three strikes became law and mass incarceration of Black men was privatized and multiplied. She saw that, under the conditions, AIDS was fast becoming an unaddressed issue for sexually active Black women, but was unable to get funding for her controversial publishing idea. Though Black women were already 23% of newly diagnosed HIV cases at the time, there was little prevention in place to address Black women and HIV or AIDS. So, Holter followed the tradition of Hip Hop and built a fanbase from grass roots and scripted a cabaret show a show from the book pages. And shocked the World.
One could assume nothing of the slender 104 page book, branded with Microsoft clip art. But the coffee table collection of rhyme without meter and erotic prose as raw as Hip Hop had become, was a bold and unapologetic middle finger in the face of conservatives, that would sully the sterile image of poetry forever. Replete with erotic photographs of Black women, candid talk of AIDS, and Black sexuality, only HBO Real Sex producer Patti Kaplan dared to touch it and knew what to do with it. Her documentary film feature on Real Sex 24 put the Punany project into World view. Holter seized the moment and built a career, a brand and non profit organization with a valuable bank of intellectual property from the 11 minute platform she was given. In 2017 she incorporated Holter Intellectual Property, a 501c3 nonprofit in Georgia, to create a library for her works, and to make her collections available for public use.
With Punany The Hip Hop Psalms, Jessica Holter did more than publish a book. She created public conversation about black sexuality and black sexual health that people were ashamed to have. She also created a new genre. Her poetic adult picture books lend credibility to what some would deem pornographic. And the live show, she created to support her passion, has been embraced and labeled by scholars as Urban Erotic Activist Theater, comparable to Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed; lofty accolades for this product of East Oakland foster care, who believes her gift for helping others is her calling.
Still, gifted, fearless and fine, at 47, Jessica Holter rules over Valentine's season like a fairy godmother, waving a wand over hearts all across the country and Caribbean and making hearts happy. "I love my job," she says.
Unique traits: Jessica's most glaring physical traits are her big curly red hair, her seductive voice, her large breasts and freckles.