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Audre Lorde

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Subject: List of American feminist literature, List of feminist literature, Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Ika Hügel-Marshall
Collection: 1934 Births, 1992 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Novelists, 20Th-Century American Poets, 20Th-Century Women Writers, African-American Feminists, African-American Librarians, African-American Novelists, African-American Women Writers, American Activists, American Feminist Writers, American Librarians, American People of Barbadian Descent, American People of Carriacouan Descent, American People of United States Virgin Islands Descent, American Women Novelists, American Women Poets, American Women Writers, Audre Lorde, Cancer Deaths in the United States Virgin Islands, Columbia University Alumni, Deaths from Liver Cancer, Feminist Studies Scholars, Hunter College Alumni, Hunter College High School Alumni, Lambda Literary Award Winners, Lesbian Feminists, Lesbian Writers, Lgbt African Americans, Lgbt Novelists, Lgbt Poets, Lgbt Rights Activists from the United States, Lgbt Writers from the United States, Poets Laureate of New York, Radical Feminists
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Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde
Born Audrey Geraldine Lorde
February 18, 1934
New York City, New York
Died November 17, 1992(1992-11-17) (aged 58)
Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Occupation Poet, writer, activist, essayist
Genre Poetry, non-fiction
Literary movement Civil rights

Audre Lorde (; born Audrey Geraldine Lorde, February 18, 1934 – November 17, 1992) was a Caribbean-American writer, radical feminist, womanist, lesbian, and civil rights activist. In her own words, Lorde was a "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet". One of her most notable efforts was her activist work with Afro-German women in the 1980s. She spoke on issues surrounding civil rights, feminism, and oppression. Her work gained both wide acclaim and wide criticism, due to the elements of social liberalism and sexuality presented in her work and her emphasis on revolution and change.[1] She died of breast cancer in 1992, at the age of 58.


  • Life and work 1
  • "The Berlin Years" 2
  • Last years 3
  • Work 4
    • Poetry 4.1
    • Theory 4.2
    • Contemporary feminist thought 4.3
  • Tributes 5
  • Audre Lorde and womanism 6
    • Lorde's comments on feminism 6.1
    • Womanism and its ambiguity 6.2
    • Audre Lorde and critique of womanism 6.3
  • Works 7
    • Kore Press 7.1
  • Interviews 8
  • Biographical film 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • Further reading 12
  • External links 13

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.[2] 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.[3][4]

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.[5]

In 1968 Lorde was writer-in-residence at [6] where she met Frances Clayton, a white professor of psychology, who was to be her romantic partner until 1989.[2]

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.[2]

"The Berlin Years"

From 1984 to 1992, Lorde spent an extensive amount of time in Berlin, Germany, doing activist work with the Afro-German movement, particularly the women. She was originally invited to be a guest professor at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at the Free University of Berlin in 1984.[7]

The film is a documentary movie. The filming is through self-narration and is similar to an autobiography. In this way, it is important to show that there has been a change and progression. Documentaries are very selective as to who gets attention, who gets to be shown and whose story gets to be told. This means that it is a constructed narrative, a constructed picture in essence.[8]

One place where this is notable is in the anthology, Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out. In this collection, edited by May Ayim, Katharina Oguntoye, and Dagmar Shultz, Audre Lorde opens the conversation with an introduction to both the translated. English language edition and the original in German. She states, "American women of whatever color cannot afford to indulge ourselves in the parochial attitudes that often blind us to the rest of the world. The Black German women included in this book offer some insights into the complexities of a future global feminism".[9]

In her autobiography, Ika Hügel-Marshall describes the impact Audre Lorde had on her own life. She writes her a tribute after her passing in the book as well. In the tribute she states, "Many people had special relationships with you, and many believed they had a unique connection to you. I had neither the one nor the other. We just had a lot of fun with each other and often laughed at the same things. I never told you what you meant to me; it was clear already and therefore unburdensome".[10]

Audre Lorde's legacy in the Afro-German Movement continues to live on. As Marion Kraft writes, "for the forging of a collective Black German consciousness of identity, Audre Lorde’s connections with Black Germans were pivotal and marked the beginning of a cross-cultural movement that was seminal for the building of various organizations like the Initiative of Black Germans (ISD), ADEFRA (Afro-German Women) and Homestory Deutschland."[11] Marion Kraft herself writes about her encounters with Audre Lorde and the impact of her poetry. Kraft organized poetry readings for her in Germany. She also remembers early meetings of Afro-German women with Audre Lorde and their conversations.

Last years

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.[12] 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.[13] 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."[14]

From 1991 until her death, she was the New York State Poet Laureate.[15] 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.[16]

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 Gamba Adisa, which means "Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known".[17]


Audre Lorde (left) with writers Meridel Le Sueur (middle) and Adrienne Rich (right) at a writing workshop in Austin, Texas, 1980

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".[18]

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.[19]


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".[20] She described herself both as a part of a "continuum of women"[21] and a "concert of voices" within herself.[22]

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".[23] 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.[24] 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," [24] 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".[25] Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series), also elaborates Lorde's challenge to European-American traditions.[26] 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.


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.[27]

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'".[28] 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".[29]

In her work "Erotic as Power" written in 1978, Lorde theorizes about the erotic as a site of power for women only when they learn to release it from its suppression and embrace it. She proposes that the erotic needs to be explored and experienced wholeheartedly for that it is not only in reference to the sexual and sexuality but it is a feeling of enjoyment, love and thrill that is felt towards any task or experience that satisfies women in their lives; be it reading a book or loving one's job.[30] Women have experienced difficulties when trying to embrace erotic as a source of power because it has been misnamed by men and has been mistaken for pornography .[30] However, the erotic as power allows women to use their knowledge and power to face the issues of racism, patriarchy, and our anti-erotic society.[30]

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.[31] Daly's reply letter to Lorde,[32] dated 4½ months later, was found in 2003 in Lorde's files after she died.[33]

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".[34]

The criticism did not go only one way: many white feminists were angered by Lorde's brand of feminism. In her 1984 essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House",[35] 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 who did not recognize the importance of race as an issue with white male slave-masters, describing both as "agents of oppression".[36]


The Michael Callen and Audre Lorde, which is dedicated to providing medical health care to the city's LGBT population without regard to ability to pay. Callen-Lorde is the only primary care center in New York City created specifically to serve the LGBT community

The Audre Lorde Project, founded in 1994, 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 activism, pro-immigrant activism, prison reform and organizing among youth of color.

The Audre Lorde Award is an annual literary award presented by Publishing Triangle to honor works of lesbian poetry, first presented in 2001.

In 2014 Lorde was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display in Chicago, Illinois which celebrates LGBT history and people.[37][38]

Audre Lorde and womanism

Audre Lorde’s criticism of feminists of the 1960s identifies issues of race, class, age, gender and sexuality. Similarly, author and poet Alice Walker coined the term "womanist" in an attempt to divide black female and minority female experience from "feminism". While "feminism" is defined as "a collection of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women", by imposing simplistic opposition between "men" and "women", [39] the theorists and activists during the 1960s and 1970s usually neglect the experiential difference such as race and gender factors among different social groups.

Lorde's comments on feminism

As a pioneer in black feminism study, Audre Lorde is critical of feminists neglecting racial issues. In Audre Lorde’s “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” she writes: “Certainly there are very real differences between us of race, age, and sex. But it is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions which result from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior and expectation.” More specifically she states: “As white women ignore their built-in privilege of whiteness and define woman in terms of their own experience alone, then women of color become ‘other’.” [39] Self-identified as “a forty-nine-year-old Black lesbian feminist socialist mother of two,” [39] Lorde is considered as “other, deviant, inferior, or just plain wrong,” [39] as opposed to the supposed normative “white male heterosexual capitalist” social hierarchy. “We speak not of human difference, but of human deviance.” [39] In this respect, Lorde’s ideology coincides with womanism, which “allows black women to affirm and celebrate their color and culture in a way that feminism does not.”

Womanism and its ambiguity

Womanism’s existence naturally opens various definitions and interpretations. Alice Walker’s comments on womanism that “womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender,” suggests that the scope of study of womanism includes and exceeds that of feminism. In its narrowest definition, womanism is the black feminist movement that was formed in response to the growth of racial stereotypes in the feminist movement. In a broad sense, however, womanism is “a social change perspective based upon the everyday problems and experiences of black women and other women of minority demographics, but more broadly seeks methods to eradicate inequalities not just for black women, but for all people,” where socialist ideology and equality is imposed. However, even though womanism is open to interpretation, one of the most common criticisms of womanism is its lack of emphasis in search for homogeneity. It is also addressed that very little sexuality issues is included in womanist literature.

Lorde also actively strived for the change of culture within the feminist community by implementing womanist ideology. In the Journal “Anger Among Allies: Audre Lorde’s 1981 Keynote Admonishing the

  • 13 October 2008The Guardian"The enemy of silence". by Jackie Kay
  • Works by or about Audre Lorde in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • "Audre Lorde, 58, A Poet, Memoirist And Lecturer, Dies" 20 November 1992New York Times
  • journal. March/April 2004The Crisis"Audre Lorde: Black, Feminist, Lesbian, Mother, Poet".

Articles and archive

  • 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


External links

Further reading

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Press release for film "Audre Lorde – the Berlin years, 1984 to 1992 at
  8. ^ Lorde, Audre, perf. The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992. Dir. Dagmar Schultz. 2012. Web. 13 Dec. 2014.
  9. ^ Showing Our Colors,, page xiiii
  10. ^ Invisible Woman,, page 106
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ The Cancer Journals, pp. 12–13.
  21. ^ The Cancer Journals, p. 17.
  22. ^ The Cancer Journals, p. 31.
  23. ^ Birkle, p. 180.
  24. ^ a b
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ Olson, Lester C.; "Liabilities of Language: Audre Lorde Reclaiming Difference."
  28. ^ Birkle, p. 202.
  29. ^ Griffin, Ada Gay; Michelle Parkerson. "Audre Lorde", BOMB Magazine Summer 1996. Retrieved 19 January 2012
  30. ^ a b c Audre Lorde, “The Erotic as Power” [1978], republished in Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (New York: Ten Speed Press, 2007), 53-58
  31. ^
  32. ^ Amazon Grace (N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 1st ed. [1st printing?] Jan. 2006), pp. 25–26 (reply text).
  33. ^ 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).
  34. ^ De Veaux, p. 247.
  35. ^ Sister Outsider, pp. 110–114.
  36. ^ De Veaux, p. 249.
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ a b c d e
  40. ^ a b c d
  41. ^


See also

  • A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde (1995) Documentary by Michelle Parkeson.
  • (2002)The Edge of Each Other's Battles: The Vision of Audre Lorde. Documentary by Jennifer Abod.
  • (2012)Audre Lorde - The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992. Documentary by Dagmar Schultz.

Biographical film


  • 1981:
  • 1982:
  • 1983: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. The Crossing Press
  • 1984: Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. The Crossing Press (reissued 2007)
  • 1986:
  • 1988:
  • 1993:

Kore Press

  • 1968: The First Cities
  • 1970: Cables to Rage
  • 1973: From a Land Where Other People Live
  • 1974: New York Head Shop and Museum
  • 1976:
  • 1976: Between Our Selves
  • 1978: Hanging Fire
  • 1978:
  • 1980: The Cancer Journals, Aunt Lute Books


Audre Lorde’s ideology to redefine the difference among all social identities such as “age race class and sex” is deeply rooted in her work. Most of her theory coincides with the commonly known “womanism” that emphasizes minority experience, but her major argument on homosexuality is not widely demonstrated in womanist writing.

With such a strong ideology and open-mindedness, Lorde’s impact on lesbian society is also significant. One of the attendee describes the process of Lorde’s speech in August 1978, how Lorde reads her essay “Uses for the erotic, the erotic as Power.” As it is described, “She asked if all the lesbians in the room would please stand. Almost the entire audience rose.” [41]

On the contrary, Audre Lorde is very open to her own sexuality and sexual awakening. In her famous "biomythography" (coined by Lorde: biography combined with mythology) Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, she writes “Years afterward when I was grown, whenever I thought about the way I smelled that day, I would have a fantasy of my mother, her hands wiped dry from the washing, and her apron untied and laid neatly away, looking down upon me lying on the touch, and then slowly, thoroughly, our touching and caressing each other’s most secret places.” [40] According to scholar Anh Hua, Lorde turns female abjection—menstruation, female sexuality, and female incest with the mother—into powerful scenes of female relationship and connection, thus subverting patriarchal heterosexist culture.[40]

A major critique on womanism is the failure to explicitly address homosexuality within the female community. Very little womanist literature relates to lesbian or bisexual issues. Many scholars consider the lack of sympathy and reluctance to accept homosexuality accountable to the gender simplistic model of womanism. According to Lorde’s essay “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” “the need for unity is often misnamed as a need for homogeneity,” “a fear of lesbians, or of being accused of being a lesbian, has led many Black women into testifying against themselves.”

Audre Lorde and critique of womanism


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