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Audre Lorde, Austin, Texas, 1980
|Born||February 18, 1934
New York City, New York
|Died||November 17, 1992
|Occupation||Poet, writer, activist, essayist|
Life and work
Lorde was born in New York City to Caribbean immigrants from Barbados and Carriacou, Frederick Byron Lorde (called Byron) and Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde, who settled in Harlem. Lorde's mother was of mixed ancestry but could pass for white, a source of pride for her family. Lorde's father was darker than the Belmar family liked and only allowed the couple to marry because of Byron Lorde's charm, ambition, and persistence. Nearsighted to the point of being legally blind, and the youngest of three daughters (her sisters being named Phyllis and Helen), Audre Lorde grew up hearing her mother's stories about the West Indies. 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 first name while still a child, explaining in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name 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 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 from 1954 to 1959 and graduated with a bachelor's degree. While studying library science, 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 supervisor, moving out of Harlem to Stamford, Connecticut, and beginning to explore her lesbian sexuality.
In 1954, she spent a pivotal year as a student at the National University of Mexico, a period she described as a time of affirmation and renewal, when she confirmed her identity on personal and artistic levels as a lesbian 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. She furthered her education at Columbia University, earning a master's degree in library science in 1961. She also worked during this time as a librarian at Mount Vernon Public Library 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.
From 1977 to 1978 Lorde had a brief affair with the sculptor and painter Mildred Thompson. 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.
From 1984 to 1992, Lorde spent an extensive amount of time in Berlin, Germany, doing activist work with the Afro-German population. She was originally invited to be a guest professor at the John F. Kennedy Institute of North American Studies at the Free University of Berlin in 1984.
Audre Lorde battled cancer for fourteen years. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1978 and underwent a mastectomy. Six years later, Lorde was diagnosed with liver cancer. As a result of her cancer, she chose to become more focused on both her life and her writing. She wrote The Cancer Journals which in 1981 won the American Library Association Gay Caucus Book of the Year Award. She featured as the subject of a documentary called A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde that shows Lorde as an author, poet, human rights activist, feminist, and lesbian. She is quoted in the film: "What I leave behind has a life of its own." "I've said this about poetry; I've said it about children. Well, in a sense I'm saying it about the very artifact of who I have been."
From 1991 until her death, she was the New York State Poet Laureate. In 1992 she received the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle. In 2001 Publishing Triangle instituted the Audre Lorde Award to honour works of lesbian poetry.
Lorde died of liver cancer on November 17, 1992, in St. Croix where she had been living with Gloria I. Joseph. She was 58. In her own words, Lorde was a "black, lesbian, 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".
Lorde's poetry was published very regularly during the 1960s — in Langston Hughes' 1962 New Negro Poets, USA; in several foreign anthologies; and in black literary magazines. During this time, she was politically active in civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements. Her first volume of poetry, The First Cities (1968), was published by the Poet's Press and edited by Diane di Prima, a former classmate and friend from Hunter College High School. Dudley Randall, 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 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 and Cherríe Moraga, she co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher for women of color. Lorde was State Poet of New York from 1991 to 1992.
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.
Lorde considered herself a "lesbian, mother, warrior, poet", and used poetry to get this message across. Her main goal was to empower black people and lesbians and to encourage everyone to be comfortable in their own skin. In 1968, Lorde published The First Cities, her first volumes of poems that has been described as a "quiet, introspective book,"  focusing mainly on personal issues and feelings.
Lorde's poetry became more open and personal as she grew older and became more confident in her sexuality. Lorde states in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series), "Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought…As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings and the honest exploration of them become sanctuaries and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring ideas". Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series), also elaborates Lorde's challenge to European-American traditions. Her feelings, expressed in interviews as well as her output speak to various audiences such as African-Americans, women, and lesbians. Poems in Cables to Rage, is thought to include Lorde's her first openly lesbian poem.
Lorde criticised feminists of the 1960s, from the National Organization for Women to Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, for focusing on the particular experiences and values of white 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'". This theory is today known as intersectionality.
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. In Ada Gay Griffin and Michelle Parkerson’s documentary A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde, Lorde says, "Let me tell you first about what it was like being a Black woman poet in the ‘60s, from jump. It meant being invisible. It meant being really invisible. It meant being doubly invisible as a Black feminist woman and it meant being triply invisible as a Black lesbian and feminist". Lorde 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.
Contemporary feminist thought
Lorde set out to confront 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 blunt open letter addressed to the fellow radical lesbian feminist Mary Daly, to which Lorde stated she received no reply. Daly's reply letter to Lorde, dated 4½ months later, was found in 2003 in Lorde's files after she died.
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 underlying racism within feminism, describing it as unrecognized dependence on the patriarchy. She argued that, by denying difference in the category of women, white 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".
- 1968: The First Cities
- 1970: Cables to Rage
- 1973: From a Land Where Other People Live
- 1974: New York Head Shop and Museum
- 1976: Coal. ISBN 0-393-04439-4. OCLC 2074270.
- 1976: Between Our Selves
- 1978: The Black Unicorn. New York: W. W. Norton Publishing. ISBN 0-393-04508-0. OCLC 3966122.
- 1980: The Cancer Journals, Aunt Lute Books
- 1981: Uses of the Erotic: the erotic as power. Kore Books. ISBN 978-1-888553-10-9.
- 1982: Chosen Poems: Old and New. ISBN 0-393-01576-9. OCLC 8114592.
- 1983: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. The Crossing Press
- 1984: Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. The Crossing Press (reissued 2007)
- 1986: Our Dead Behind Us. ISBN 0-393-02329-X. OCLC 13870929.
- 1988: A Burst of Light. Firebrand Books. ISBN 0-932379-40-0. OCLC 17619136.
- 1993: The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance. ISBN 0-393-31170-8. OCLC 38009170.
- "Interview with Audre Lorde," in Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis, ed. Robin Ruth Linden (East Palo Alto, Calif. : Frog in the Well, 1982.), pp. 66–71 ISBN 0-960-36283-5 OCLC 7877113
- A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde (1995) Documentary by Michelle Parkeson.
- The Edge of Each Other's Battles: The Vision of Audre Lorde (2002). Documentary by Jennifer Abod.
- Audre Lorde - The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 (2012). Documentary by Dagmar Schultz.
- African-American literature
- Audre Lorde Project, an organization in New York City named for Lorde
- Black Feminism
- Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, an organization in New York City named for Michael Callen and Lorde
- De Veaux, Alexis (2004). A Biography of Audre Lorde. W.W. Norton & Co. pp. 7–13. ISBN 978-0-393-32935-3.
- Parks, Rev. Gabriele (August 3, 2008). "Audre Lorde". Thomas Paine Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Retrieved July 9, 2009.
- Lorde, Audre (1982). Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Crossing Press.
- Kulii, Beverly Threatt; Ann E. Reuman and Ann Trapasso. "Audre Lorde's Life and Career". University of Illinois Department of English website. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
- "Audre Lorde". Poets.org. Retrieved July 9, 2009.
- Press release for film "Audre Lorde - the Berline years, 1984 to 1992 at AudreLorde-theBerlinYears.com.
- "A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde (1995)". The New York Times.
- "A Litany For Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde". POV. PBS. June 18, 1996.
- "New York". US State Poets Laureate. Library of Congress. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
- Publishing Triangle awards page.
- Audre Lorde biodata - life and death
- Randall, Dudley; various (September 1968). "Books Noted". In John H., Johnson. Negro Digest (Johnson Publishing Company) 17 (12): 13. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
- "Audre Lorde 1934–1992". Enotes.com. Retrieved 2009-07-09.
- The Cancer Journals, pp. 12–13.
- The Cancer Journals, p. 17.
- The Cancer Journals, p. 31.
- Birkle, p. 180.
- "Audre Lorde". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
- Taylor, Sherri (3 January 2013). "Acts of Remembering: Relationship in Feminist Theory". Women & Therapy 36 (1-2, 2013): 23–34.
- Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley: Crossing Press.
- Olson, Lester C.; "Liabilities of Language: Audre Lorde Reclaiming Difference."
- Birkle, p. 202.
- Griffin, Ada Gay; Michelle Parkerson. "Audre Lorde", BOMB Magazine Summer 1996. Retrieved 19 January 2012
- Lorde, Audre (1984). Sister Outsider. Berkeley: Crossing Press. p. 66. ISBN 1-58091-186-2.
- Amazon Grace (N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 1st ed. [1st printing?] Jan. 2006), pp. 25–26 (reply text).
- Amazon Grace, supra, pp. 22–26, esp. pp. 24–26 & nn. 15–16, citing Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde, by Alexis De Veaux (N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1st ed. 2004) (ISBN 0393019543 or ISBN 0-393-32935-6).
- De Veaux, p. 247.
- Sister Outsider, pp. 110–114.
- De Veaux, p. 249.
- Sister Outsider, p. 132.
- Birkle, Carmen (1996). Women's Stories of the Looking Glass: autobiographical reflections and self-representations in the poetry of Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Audre Lorde. München, Germany: W. Fink. ISBN 3770530837. OCLC 34821525.
- Lorde, Audre; Byrd, Rudolph; Cole, Johnnetta; Guy-Sheftall, Beverly (2009). I am your Sister: collected and unpublished writings of Audre Lorde. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-534148-5.
- De Veaux, Alexis (2004). Warrior Poet: a biography of Audre Lorde. New York, New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-01954-3. OCLC 53315369.
- Lorde, Audre; Hall, Joan Wylie (2004). Conversations with Audre Lorde. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-642-5. OCLC 55762793.
- Keating, AnaLouise (1996). Women Reading Women Writing: self-invention in Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Audre Lorde. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-419-8. OCLC 33160820.
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- Profile and poems at the Poetry Foundation
- Profile and poems written and audio at Academy of American Poets
- "Voices From the Gaps: Audre Lorde". Profile. University of Minnesota
- Profile at Modern American Poetry
Articles and archive
- "The enemy of silence". The Guardian 13 October 2008 by Jackie Kay
- Works by or about Audre Lorde in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- New York Times "Audre Lorde, 58, A Poet, Memoirist And Lecturer, Dies" 20 November 1992
- "Audre Lorde: Black, Feminist, Lesbian, Mother, Poet". The Crisis journal. March/April 2004