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Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde

Overview
Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist.

Lorde was born in New York City to Caribbean immigrants from Grenada, Frederick Byron Lorde (called Byron) and Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde, who settled in Harlem
Harlem
Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, which since the 1920s has been a major African-American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands...

. Nearsighted
Myopia
Myopia , "shortsightedness" ) is a refractive defect of the eye in which collimated light produces image focus in front of the retina under conditions of accommodation. In simpler terms, myopia is a condition of the eye where the light that comes in does not directly focus on the retina but in...

 to the point of being legally blind, and the youngest of three daughters (her sisters named Phyllis and Helen), Lorde grew up hearing her mother's stories about the West Indies
Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

.
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Quotations

When I speak of the erotic, then I speak of it as an assertion of the life force of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.

entry for June 26 Living Life Fully in Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much, Anne Wilson Schaef, c. 1990

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

The Cancer Journals, Special Edition, Aunt Lute Books, San Francisco, CA, 1997, p. 13.

Each time you love, love as deeply as if it were forever / Only, nothing is eternal.

Undersong

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.

essay "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action", in Sister Outsider

Your silence will not protect you.

essay "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action", in Sister Outsider

I am who I am, doing what I came to do, acting upon you like a drug or chisel or remind you of your me-ness as I discover you in myself.

essay "Eye to Eye", in Sister Outsider

We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes a habit because what was native has been stolen from us, the love of Black women for each other.

essay "Eye to Eye", in Sister Outsider

The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.

essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House", in Sister Outsider

I have always wanted to be both man and woman, to incorporate the strongest and richest parts of my mother and father within/into me -- to share valleys and mountains upon my body the way the earth does in hills and peaks.

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
Encyclopedia
Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist.

Life


Lorde was born in New York City to Caribbean immigrants from Grenada, Frederick Byron Lorde (called Byron) and Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde, who settled in Harlem
Harlem
Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, which since the 1920s has been a major African-American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands...

. Nearsighted
Myopia
Myopia , "shortsightedness" ) is a refractive defect of the eye in which collimated light produces image focus in front of the retina under conditions of accommodation. In simpler terms, myopia is a condition of the eye where the light that comes in does not directly focus on the retina but in...

 to the point of being legally blind, and the youngest of three daughters (her sisters named Phyllis and Helen), Lorde grew up hearing her mother's stories about the West Indies
Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

. She learned to talk while she learned to read, at the age of four, and her mother taught her to write at around the same time. She wrote her first poem when she was in eighth grade.

Born Audrey Geraldine Lorde, she chose to drop the "y" from her name while still a child, explaining in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name is a 1982 autobiography by African American poet Audre Lorde. It started a new genre that the author calls biomythography.-Explanation of the title:...

, that she was more interested in the artistic symmetry of the "e"-endings in the two side-by-side names "Audre Lorde" than in spelling her name the way her parents had intended.
After graduating from Hunter College High School
Hunter College High School
Hunter College High School is a New York City secondary school for intellectually gifted students located on Manhattan's Upper East Side. It is administered by Hunter College, a senior college of the City University of New York. Although it is not operated by the New York City Department of...

 and experiencing the grief of her best friend Genevieve "Gennie" Thompson's death, Lorde immediately left her parents' home and became estranged from her family. She attended Hunter College
Hunter College
Hunter College, established in 1870, is a public university and one of the constituent colleges of the City University of New York, located on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Hunter grants undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate degrees in more than one hundred fields of study, and is recognized...

 from 1954 to 1959 and graduated with a bachelor's degree
Bachelor's degree
A bachelor's degree is usually an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world...

. While studying library science
Library science
Library science is an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary field that applies the practices, perspectives, and tools of management, information technology, education, and other areas to libraries; the collection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information resources; and the...

, Lorde supported herself by working various odd jobs such as factory worker, ghost writer, social worker, X-ray technician, medical clerk, and arts and crafts
Arts and crafts
Arts and crafts comprise a whole host of activities and hobbies that are related to making things with one's hands and skill. These can be sub-divided into handicrafts or "traditional crafts" and "the rest"...

 supervisor, moving out of Harlem to Stamford, Connecticut
Stamford, Connecticut
Stamford is a city in Fairfield County, Connecticut, United States. According to the 2010 census, the population of the city is 122,643, making it the fourth largest city in the state and the eighth largest city in New England...

 and beginning to explore her lesbian
Lesbian
Lesbian is a term most widely used in the English language to describe sexual and romantic desire between females. The word may be used as a noun, to refer to women who identify themselves or who are characterized by others as having the primary attribute of female homosexuality, or as an...

 sexuality.

In 1954, she spent a pivotal year as a student at the National University of Mexico
National Autonomous University of Mexico
The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México is a university in Mexico. UNAM was founded on 22 September 1910 by Justo Sierra as a liberal alternative to the Roman Catholic-sponsored Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) (National Autonomous...

, a period she described as a time of affirmation and renewal: she confirmed her identity on personal and artistic levels as a lesbian
Lesbian
Lesbian is a term most widely used in the English language to describe sexual and romantic desire between females. The word may be used as a noun, to refer to women who identify themselves or who are characterized by others as having the primary attribute of female homosexuality, or as an...

 and poet. On her return to New York, she attended college, worked as a librarian, continued writing and became an active participant in the gay culture of Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village, , , , .in New York often simply called "the Village", is a largely residential neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan in New York City. A large majority of the district is home to upper middle class families...

. She furthered her education at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, earning a master's degree in library science in 1961. She also worked during this time as a librarian at Mount Vernon Public Library
Mount Vernon, New York
Mount Vernon is a city in Westchester County, New York, United States. It lies on the border of the New York City borough of The Bronx.-Overview:...

 and married attorney Edwin Rollins; they divorced in 1970 after having two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan. In 1966, Lorde became head librarian at Town School Library in New York City, where she remained until 1968.
In 1968 Lorde was writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College
Tougaloo College
Tougaloo College is a private, co-educational, liberal arts institution of higher education founded in 1869, in Madison County, north of Jackson, Mississippi, USA.Academically, Tougaloo College has received high ranks in recent years...

 in Mississippi, where she met Frances Clayton, a white professor of psychology, who was to be her romantic partner until 1989. From 1977 to 1978 Lorde had a brief affair with the sculptor and painter Mildred Thompson
Mildred Thompson
Mildred Thompson was an African American artist who worked in the media of painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and photography. She was also a writer and, beginning in 1987, was an associate editor for the magazine Art Papers in Atlanta, Georgia...

. The two met in Nigeria in 1977 at the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC 77). Their affair ran its course during the time that Thompson lived in Washington, D.C. and was teaching at Howard University. Lorde died on November 17, 1992, in St. Croix
Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Saint Croix is an island in the Caribbean Sea, and a county and constituent district of the United States Virgin Islands , an unincorporated territory of the United States. Formerly the Danish West Indies, they were sold to the United States by Denmark in the Treaty of the Danish West Indies of...

, (where she had been living with Gloria I. Joseph), after a 14-year struggle with breast cancer. She was 58. In her own words, Lorde was a "black
Black people
The term black people is used in systems of racial classification for humans of a dark skinned phenotype, relative to other racial groups.Different societies apply different criteria regarding who is classified as "black", and often social variables such as class, socio-economic status also plays a...

, lesbian
Lesbian
Lesbian is a term most widely used in the English language to describe sexual and romantic desire between females. The word may be used as a noun, to refer to women who identify themselves or who are characterized by others as having the primary attribute of female homosexuality, or as an...

, mother, warrior, poet". In an African naming ceremony before her death, she took the name Gambda Adisa, which means "Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known".

Career



Lorde's poetry was published very regularly during the 1960s — in Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance...

' 1962 New Negro Poets, USA; in several foreign anthologies; and in black literary magazines. During this time, she was politically active in civil rights
Civil rights movement
The civil rights movement was a worldwide political movement for equality before the law occurring between approximately 1950 and 1980. In many situations it took the form of campaigns of civil resistance aimed at achieving change by nonviolent forms of resistance. In some situations it was...

, anti-war
Peace movement
A peace movement is a social movement that seeks to achieve ideals such as the ending of a particular war , minimize inter-human violence in a particular place or type of situation, often linked to the goal of achieving world peace...

, and feminist movement
Feminist movement
The feminist movement refers to a series of campaigns for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women's suffrage, sexual harassment and sexual violence...

s. Her first volume of poetry, The First Cities (1968), was published by the Poet's Press and edited by Diane di Prima
Diane di Prima
Diane Di Prima is an American poet.-Early life:Di Prima was born in Brooklyn. She attended Hunter College High School and Swarthmore College before dropping out to be a poet in Manhattan...

, a former classmate and friend from Hunter College High School. Dudley Randall
Dudley Randall
Dudley Randall was an African American poet and poetry publisher from Detroit, Michigan. He founded a publishing company called Broadside Press in 1965, which published many leading African American writers. Randall's most famous poem is "The Ballad of Birmingham", written during the 1960s, about...

, a poet and critic, asserted in his review of the book that Lorde "does not wave a black flag, but her blackness is there, implicit, in the bone."

Her second volume, Cables to Rage (1970), which was mainly written during her tenure at Tougaloo College
Tougaloo College
Tougaloo College is a private, co-educational, liberal arts institution of higher education founded in 1869, in Madison County, north of Jackson, Mississippi, USA.Academically, Tougaloo College has received high ranks in recent years...

 in Mississippi, addressed themes of love, betrayal, childbirth and the complexities of raising children. It is particularly noteworthy for the poem "Martha", in which Lorde poetically confirms her homosexuality: "[W]e shall love each other here if ever at all." Later books continued her political aims in lesbian and gay rights, and feminism. In 1980, together with Barbara Smith
Barbara Smith
Barbara Smith in Cleveland is an American, lesbian feminist who has played a significant role in building and sustaining Black Feminism in the United States. Since the early 1970s she has been active as an innovative critic, teacher, lecturer, author, independent scholar, and publisher of Black...

 and Cherríe Moraga
Cherríe Moraga
Cherríe L. Moraga is a Chicana writer, feminist activist, poet, essayist, and playwright.-Biography:Moraga was born in Whittier, California. She earned her Bachelor's degree from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, California and her Master's from San Francisco State University in 1980...

, she co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press
Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press
Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press was an activist feminist press started in 1980 by author Barbara Smith at the suggestion of her friend, poet Audre Lorde.-Beginnings:...

, the first U.S. publisher for women of colour. Lorde was State Poet of New York from 1991 to 1992.

Theory


Lorde criticised feminists of the 1960s, from the National Organization for Women
National Organization for Women
The National Organization for Women is the largest feminist organization in the United States. It was founded in 1966 and has a membership of 500,000 contributing members. The organization consists of 550 chapters in all 50 U.S...

 to Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan was an American writer, activist, and feminist.A leading figure in the Women's Movement in the United States, her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is often credited with sparking the "second wave" of American feminism in the twentieth century...

's The Feminine Mystique
The Feminine Mystique
The Feminine Mystique, published February 19, 1963, by W.W. Norton and Co., is a nonfiction book written by Betty Friedan. It is widely credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States....

, for focusing on the particular experiences and values of white
White people
White people is a term which usually refers to human beings characterized, at least in part, by the light pigmentation of their skin...

 middle-class women. Her writings are based on the "theory of difference", the idea that the binary opposition between men and women is overly simplistic: although feminists have found it necessary to present the illusion of a solid, unified whole, the category of women itself is full of subdivisions.

Lorde identified issues of class, race, age, gender and even health — this last was added as she battled cancer in her later years — as being fundamental to the female experience. She argued that, although the gender difference has received all the focus, these other differences are also essential and must be recognised and addressed. "Lorde", it is written, "puts her emphasis on the authenticity of experience. She wants her difference acknowledged but not judged; she does not want to be subsumed into the one general category of 'woman'".

While acknowledging that the differences between women are wide and varied, most of Lorde's works are concerned with two subsets that concerned her primarily — race and sexuality. She observes that black women's experiences are different from those of white women, and that, because the experience of the white woman is considered normative, the black woman's experiences are marginalised; similarly, the experiences of the lesbian (and, in particular, the black lesbian) are considered aberrational, not in keeping with the true heart of the feminist movement. Although they are not considered normative, Lorde argues that these experiences are nevertheless valid and feminist.

Lorde and Contemporary Feminist Thought


Lorde set out actively to challenge white women, confronting issues of racism in feminist thought. She maintained that a great deal of the scholarship of white feminists served to augment the oppression of black women, a conviction that led to angry confrontation, most notably in a scathing open letter addressed to radical lesbian feminist Mary Daly
Mary Daly
Mary Daly was an American radical feminist philosopher, academic, and theologian. Daly, who described herself as a "radical lesbian feminist", taught at Boston College, a Jesuit-run institution, for 33 years. Daly retired in 1999, after violating university policy by refusing to allow male...

, to which Lorde stated she received no reply.

This fervent disagreement with notable white feminists furthered her persona as an "outsider": "in the institutional milieu of black feminist and black lesbian feminist scholars [...] and within the context of conferences sponsored by white feminist academics, Lorde stood out as an angry, accusatory, isolated black feminist lesbian voice".

The criticism did not go only one way: many white feminists were angered by Lorde's brand of feminism. In her essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House", Lorde attacked the underlying racism of feminism, describing it as unrecognized dependence on the patriarchy. She argued that, by denying difference in the category of women, feminists merely passed on old systems of oppression and that, in so doing, they were preventing any real, lasting change. Her argument aligned white feminists with white male slave-masters, describing both as "agents of oppression".

In so doing, she enraged a great many white feminists, who saw her essay as an attempt to privilege her identities as black and lesbian, and assume a moral authority based on suffering. Suffering was a condition universal to women, they claimed, and to accuse feminists of racism would cause divisiveness rather than heal it. In response, Lorde wrote "what you hear in my voice is fury, not suffering. Anger, not moral authority."

Poetry


Lorde focused her discussion of difference not only on differences between groups of women but between conflicting differences within the individual. "I am defined as other in every group I'm part of", she declared. "The outsider, both strength and weakness. Yet without community there is certainly no liberation, no future, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between me and my oppression." She described herself both as a part of a "continuum of women" and a "concert of voices" within herself.

Her conception of her many layers of selfhood is replicated in the multi-genres of her work. Critic Carmen Birkle wrote: "Her multicultural self is thus reflected in a multicultural text, in multi-genres, in which the individual cultures are no longer separate and autonomous entities but melt into a larger whole without losing their individual importance". Her refusal to be placed in a particular category, whether social or literary, was characteristic of her determination to come across as an individual rather than a stereotype.

Works

  • The First Cities (1968)
  • Cables to Rage (1970)
  • From a Land Where Other People Live (1973)
  • New York Head Shop and Museum (1974)
  • Coal (1976)
  • Between Our Selves (1976)
  • The Black Unicorn (1978, W.W. Norton Publishing)
  • The Cancer Journals
    The Cancer Journals
    The Cancer Journals is a 1980 book of non-fiction by Audre Lorde. It deals with her struggle with breast cancer.-Summary:The book consists of an introduction and three chapters, each featuring passages from her diary....

    (1980 Aunt Lute Books
    Aunt Lute Books
    Aunt Lute Books is a multicultural feminist press whose mission is to "publish literature by women whose voices have been traditionally under-represented in mainstream and small press publishing" and "distribute literature that expresses the true complexity of women’s lives and the possibilities...

    )

Kore Press

  • Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power (1981 Kore Books)
  • Chosen Poems: Old and New (1982)
  • Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
    Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
    Zami: A New Spelling of My Name is a 1982 autobiography by African American poet Audre Lorde. It started a new genre that the author calls biomythography.-Explanation of the title:...

    (1983, The Crossing Press)
  • Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984, 2007, The Crossing Press)
  • Our Dead Behind Us (1986)
  • A Burst of Light (1988, Firebrand Books
    Firebrand Books
    Firebrand Books, was established in the early 1980s by Nancy K. Bereano---a lesbian/feminist activist in Ithaca, NY. It is a feminist and lesbian publishing house and among the many which grew out of the Women's Press Movement. Other presses of that period include Naiad Books, Persephone and...

    )
  • The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance (1993)

Biographical film



See also


  • Audre Lorde Project
    Audre Lorde Project
    The Audre Lorde Project is a Brooklyn, New York-based organization for queer people of color. The organization concentrates on community organizing and radical nonviolent activism around progressive issues within New York City, especially relating to queer and transgender communities, AIDS and HIV...

    , an organization in New York City named for Audre Lorde
  • Callen-Lorde Community Health Center
    Callen-Lorde Community Health Center
    Callen-Lorde Community Health Center is a primary care center located at 356 West 18th Street in New York, NY. The center is dedicated to providing medical health care to the city's LGBT population without regard to ability to pay....

    , an organization in New York City named for Michael Callen
    Michael Callen
    Michael Callen was a singer, songwriter, composer, author, and AIDS activist. He was a significant architect of the response to the AIDS crisis in the United States....

     and Audre Lorde.
  • Black Feminism
    Black feminism
    Black feminism argues that sexism, class oppression, and racism are inextricably bound together. Forms of feminism that strive to overcome sexism and class oppression. The Combahee River Collective argued in 1974 that the liberation of black women entails freedom for all people, since it would...

  • Womanism
    Womanism
    The word womanism was adapted from Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker's use of the term in her book In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose...

  • African-American literature

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