Okay, Audre Lorde was a freaking BAD. ASS. She was a writer, a thinker, and a force to be reckoned with.
Audre was the third — and youngest — daughter of West Indian immigrants Frederic Byron and Linda Belmar Lorde. The two had come to Harlem in search of opportunity, and their intentions to return to the West Indies dissipated along with the onset of the Depression. They had a child named Audrey Geraldine Lorde in 1934. She disliked the Y at the end of her first name because it hung down below the rest of the word, disrupting the line. She dropped it, in favor of "Audre" — in an early declaration of self-identification. Audre was a sickly child — she was born near-blind, and could not speak until age four. She expressed herself through poetry, saying, "Words had an energy and power and I came to respect that power early. Pronouns, nouns, and verbs were citizens of different countries, who really got together to make a new world" (Karla M. Hammond, Denver Quarterly, Spring 1981). She began writing her own poetry at twelve or thirteen and was published by seventeen.
Throughout her distinguished career, Audre published The First Cities, her first volume of poems, and then several more distinguished, though not highly-read, works. It was with Coal, published in 1976, that Lorde really came to the fore as a voice in the Black Arts Movement, and she followed that up with Between Our Selves (1976) and Hanging Fire (1978). In 1978, she published The Black Unicorn, in which she reclaimed female African identity, and wrote about fertility, deism, and "warrior strength." She wrote a truly moving "biomythography" called Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, in 1982, and wrote the prose collection Sister Outsider.
But perhaps one of the greatest legacies that Audre Lorde left was the lesson of intersectionality. Lorde spent her life and career as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” writing about how she could be all those things at once. Both her prose and poetry speaks to identity, and how it is often a comprised complex and confusing mish-mosh of labels, categories, and power dynamics. Her work was a pioneering force in both mainstream and black feminist thought in this way, and she spoke frankly and honestly about the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and class. In Black Women Writers, Lorde stated, “As Black people, we cannot begin our dialogue by denying the oppressive nature of male privilege...And if Black males choose to assume that privilege, for whatever reason, raping, brutalizing, and killing women, then we cannot ignore Black male oppression. One oppression does not justify another.”
In addition to this, Lorde was a powerful teacher, mother, and individual. She wrote about her battle with breast cancer, which lasted for fourteen years, in The Cancer Journals (1980). Not only did she write about the harrowing disease and her personal struggle, but it was one of the first works of any kind to openly discuss being a woman of color and being a lesbian. It confronted the health industry, racism, and the treatment of black women’s bodies by the medical complex and society at large. For the last portion of her life, Audre Lorde moved to St. Croix with her partner Gloria I. Joseph, and passed away on November 17, 1992.
We're celebrating her with these photos and quotes:
"I feel have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and to share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigating pain."
“The more I use my strength in the service of my vision, the less I am afraid..."
When we define ourselves, when I define myself, the place in which I am like you and the place in which I am not like you, I'm not excluding you from the joining — I'm broadening the joining.”
“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."
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
"Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
“But the true feminist deals out of a lesbian consciousness whether or not she ever sleeps with women.”
“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill...For the master's tools will not dismantle the master's house. They will never allow us to bring about genuine change.”
“... Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”
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