A Web Portal For Lesbians Of Color
"Poets must teach what they know, if we are all to continue being." -- Audre Lorde
And when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent
we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we
were never meant to survive. -- Audre Lorde
“Your Silence Will Not Protect You”
Audrey Geraldine Lorde was born on February 18, 1934 in New York City. She decided to drop the "y" from the end of her name at a young age, setting a precedent in her life of self determination. She was the daughter of Caribbean immigrants who settled in Harlem. She graduated from Columbia University and Hunter College, where she later held the prestigious post of Thomas Hunter Chair of Literature. She was married for eight years in the 1960's, and had two children - Elizabeth and Jonathan.
Lorde was a self described "Black lesbian, mother, warrior, poet". However, her life was one that could not be summed up in a phrase.
Audre Lorde the Poet
Lorde collected a host of awards and honors, including the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit, which conferred the mantle of New York State poet for 1991-93. In designating her New York State's Poet Laureate, the Governor, Mario Cuomo, said: "Her imagination is charged by a sharp sense of racial injustice and cruelty, of sexual prejudice. . . . She cries out against it as the voice of indignant humanity. Audre Lorde is the voice of the eloquent outsider who speaks in a language that can reach and touch people everywhere."
Her first poem was published in Seventeen magazine while she was still in high school. The administration of the high school felt her work was too romantic for publication in their literary journal. Lorde went on to publish over a dozen books on poetry, and six books of prose from 1968 to 1993. Her works were reviewed in national publications including The New York Times Book Review. She was co-founder of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
Audre Lorde the Teacher and Activist
Lorde worked as a librarian while refining her talents as a writer. In 1968, she accepted a teaching position at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi where the violence that greeted the civil rights movement was close at hand every night. This period cemented the bond between her artistic talents and her dedication to the struggle against injustice.
on to provide avenues of expression to future generations of
writers by co-founding the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
She was at the center of the movement to preserve and celebrate
African American culture at a time when the destruction of Lorde
went on to provide avenues of expression to future generations
of writers by co-founding the Kitchen Table: Women of Color
Press. She was at the center of the movement to preserve and
celebrate African American culture at a time when the
destruction of these institutions was on the rise. Lorde held
numerous teaching positions and toured the world as a lecturer.
Her dedication reached around the world as well when she formed
the Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa. She was
one of the featured speakers at the first national march for gay
and lesbian liberation in DC in 1979. In 1989, she helped
organize disaster relief efforts for St. Croix in the wake of
Hurricane Hugo. Lorde also established the St. Croix Women's
Coalition and was living in St.Croix at the time of her death.
Perhaps the most fitting summary of her life and work can be found in a Boston Globe tribute by Renee Graham: "She took her frailties and misfortunes, her strengths and passions, and forged them into something searing, sometimes startling, always stirring verse. Her words pranced with cadence, full of their own rhythms, all punctuated resolve and spirit. With words spun into light, she could weep like Billie Holiday, chuckle like Dizzy Gillespie or bark bad like John Coltrane."
Audre Lorde the Warrior
Late in life, Audre Lorde was given the African name Gamba Adisa, meaning "Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Clear." It is a name that applies to her whole life. Her struggle against oppression on many fronts was expressed with a force and clarity that made her a respected voice for women, African Americans, and the Gay and Lesbian community.
Lorde's son, Jonathan Rollins, recalled the warrior spirit that his mother possessed stating that not fighting was not an option - "We could lose. But we couldn't not “The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives." (Poetry Is Not A Luxury) "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.”
"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."
Audre Lorde the Survivor
Once her cancer was diagnosed in 1978, Lorde became even more focused. "Her life took on a kind of immediacy that most people's lives never develop," her son Jonathan recalls. "The setting of priorities and the carrying out of important tasks assumed a much greater significance." Lorde bravely documented her 14-year battle against the cancer, as it metastasized through her body, in "The Cancer Journals" and in her book of essays "A Burst of Light." In the latter she wrote: "The struggle with cancer now informs all my days, but it is only another face of that continuing battle for self-determination and survival that black women fight daily, often in triumph." She struggled against disease and a medical establishment that was frequently indifferent to cultural differences and insensitive to women's health issues. She stood in defiance to societal rules that said that she should hide the fact that she had breast cancer.
She continued to collaborate with Griffin and Parkerson who were rushing to complete the film A Litany for Survival as Lorde neared the end of her life. "What I leave behind has a life of its own," she says movingly, her voice ravaged by illness. "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." Audre Lorde, died in St Croix, Virgin Islands, on November 17, 1992. Her spirit fights on.
The Cancer Journals
Essays and Speeches
Zami: A New
Spelling of My Name
The Cancer Journals
Undersong: Chosen Poems Old and New
A Burst of Light
The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde
The Black Unicorn: Poems
Lesbian Travels: A Literary Companion
State Writer's Institute
Letter to Audre Lorde by ESSEX HEMPHILL
On Pedagogy and the Uses of Anger
Audre Lorde on Being a Black Lesbian Feminist