Remembering Reuben Jackson (1956-2024)


Reuben Jackson, poet

Remembering Reuben Jackson (1956-2024)

Young Writers Project has lost a cherished friend. Reuben Jackson, a beautiful poet, teacher, and human being, passed away Feb. 16, 2024 in Washington, D.C., following a recent stroke. He was 67.

Reuben was many things – a published poet, jazz archivist, radio host, beloved husband, son, and brother. To us, at Young Writers Project, Reuben was a kind and generous mentor who shared his love of poetry, music, and life with our aspiring poets. Since 2020, Reuben also served on the board for YWP. We will miss him terribly.

Clowning Conundrums workshop
Reuben Jackson, top left, and Alex Muck, next to him, led a series of fun and inspiring online writing workshops for YWP.

Over the years, Reuben led dozens of our writing workshops, both live and online. Reuben treasured his time with our writers and was often moved to tears by their words. Young people fascinated and energized Reuben, and he would always empathize with their vulnerability and celebrate their bravery when they shared their writing with him. He cared deeply for them as writers and people. This open-hearted, honest man was never afraid to show his love.

Reuben Jackson and Alex Muck
Fellow writers Reuben Jackson and Alex Muck met through Young Writers Project and became a dynamic workshop duo. "Thank you for bringing Reuben into my life," Alex writes. "He was a blessing beyond blessings."

Reuben was curator of the Smithsonian’s Duke Ellington Collection in Washington, D.C. for over 20 years. His poems have been published in more than 40 anthologies, and his most recent book of poetry, Scattered Clouds, was published in 2019. A proud graduate of Goddard College and big fan of Vermont, Reuben returned to the state for several years, mentoring with YWP, teaching at Burlington High School, and hosting Friday Night Jazz on Vermont Public from 2013 until 2018. When he returned to his hometown, Washington, D.C., in 2018, he worked as an archivist with the University of the District of Columbia’s Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives, co-hosted The Sound Of Surprise on WPFW radio, and fell head over heels in love with Jenae who became his wife. Read tributes to Reuben on Vermont Public; and

Reuben Jackson, poet
Reuben Jackson, reading from his book, Scattered Clouds, at a YWP anthology celebration in Burlington, VT, in October 2019.

From the YWP archives, we found this short poem that Reuben posted on our website during one of his workshops with our writers. The prompt was: Earliest memory.

Reuben's Earliest Memory

It was a fall afternoon. Mid November.
My older brother and his friends were in the backyard
shooting baskets (It was warm for November).

I was eight years younger than my brother –
so I wasn't allowed to play with the big kids.

Instead, I sat on the steps, eating one of my Mother's
incredibly delicious tuna sandwiches,
and watching my brother shoot flawless jumper after jumper
into the astonished basket.

Your brother wasn't supposed to be your hero,
but on that day he was mine ...