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Audre Lorde

Audre Geraldine Lorde (February 18, 1934 - November 17, 1992) was a Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist.

Contents

Life

Lorde was born in New York City to Caribbean immigrants Frederick Byron Lorde (called Byron) and Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde, who settled in Harlem. Nearsighted 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. 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, that she was more interested in the artistic symmetry of the "e"-endings in the the two side-by-side names "Audre Lorde" than in spelling her name the way her parents had intended.[1] [2]

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: she confirmed her identity on personal and artistic levels as a lesbian and poet. On her return to New York, Lorde went to college, worked as a librarian, continued writing and became an active participant in the gay culture of Greenwich Village.

Lorde 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.

In 1968 Lorde was writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi,[3] 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. 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, DC [4] and was teaching at Howard University. [5] Lorde later became romantically involved with Gloria Joseph, her partner until Lorde's death. Lorde died on November 17, 1992, in St. Croix, after a 14-year struggle with breast cancer. She was 58.

In her own words, Lorde was a "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet".[6] In an African naming ceremony before her death, she took the name Gamba Adisa, which means "Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known".

Career

Lorde's poetry was published very regularly during the 1960s — in Langston Hughes's 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, addresses 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 Cherrie Moraga, she co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher for women of colour. Lorde was State Poet of New York from 1991 to 1992.[7]

Theory

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'".[8] In a period during which the women's movement was associated with white middle-class women, Lorde campaigned for a feminist movement conscious of both race and class.

While acknowledging that the differences between women are wide and varied, most of Lorde's works are concerned with two subsets which 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 feminine.

Lorde stunned white feminists with her claim that racism, sexism and homophobia were linked, all coming from the failure to recognise or inability to tolerate difference. To allow these differences to continue to function as dividers, she believed, would be to replicate the oppression of women: as long as society continues to function in binaries, with a mandatory greater and lesser, Normative and Other, women will never be free.

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 which led to angry confrontation, most notably in the scathing open letter addressed to radical lesbian feminist Mary Daly.[9]

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".[10]

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"[11], 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".[12]

Thus did she enrage 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."[13]

Poetry

A contemporary of such feminist poets as Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, Lorde also expressed her womanhood through poetry. While Plath and Rich were changing the traditions of both prose and poetry to render them more autobiographical, Lorde combined genres at will: to her, life was essential to text, so everything became autobiographical.

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".[14] She described herself both as a part of a "continuum of women"[15] and a "concert of voices" within herself.[16]

Lorde's conception of her many layers of selfhood is replicated in the multi-genres of her work. Critic Carmen Birkle writes, "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".[17] 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.

Bibliography

Birkle, Carme. Women’s Stories of the Looking Glass. Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1996. . ISBN 3770530837. OCLC 34821525.  

De Veaux, Alexis. Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde. New York and London: W.W. Norton, 2004. . ISBN 0393019543. OCLC 53315369.  

Hall, Joan Wylie. Conversations with Audre Lorde. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004. . ISBN 1578066425. OCLC 55762793.  

Byrd, Rudolph, Cole, Johnnetta Betsch, and Guy-Sheftall, Beverly. I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde New York: Oxford University University Press, 2009. . ISBN 9780195341485.  

Keating, AnaLouise (1996). Women Reading Women Writing: Self-Invention in Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Audre Lorde. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. ISBN 1566394198. OCLC 33160820.  

Lorde, Audre:

  • 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). ISBN 0393044394. OCLC 2074270.  
  • Between Our Selves (1976).  
  • The Black Unicorn (1978, W.W. Norton Publishing). ISBN 0393045080. OCLC 3966122.  
  • The Cancer Journals (1980 Aunt Lute Books).  

Kore Press

  • Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power (1981 Kore Books) Uses of the Erotic. ISBN 9781888553109.  
  • Chosen Poems: Old and New (1982). ISBN 0393015769. OCLC 8114592.  
  • Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1983, The Crossing Press.  )
  • Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984, 2007, The Crossing Press).  
  • Our Dead Behind Us (1986). ISBN 039302329X. OCLC 13870929.  
  • A Burst of Light (1988, Firebrand Books). ISBN 0932379400. OCLC 17619136.  
  • The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance (1993). ISBN 0393311708. OCLC 38009170.  

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Parks, Rev. Gabriele (3 August 2008). "Audre Lorde". Thomas Paine Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. http://www.tpuuf.org/?p=130. Retrieved 9 July 2009.  
  2. ^ Lorde, Audre (1982). Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Crossing Press.  
  3. ^ "Audre Lorde". Poets.org. http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/306. Retrieved 9 July 2009.  
  4. ^ de Veaux, Alexis (2004), A Biography of Audre Lorde, W.W. Norton & Co., p. 174, ISBN 9780393329353  
  5. ^ Thompson, Mildred (Spring 1987). "Memoirs of an Artist". SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women IV (1): 41–44.  
  6. ^ Tharps, Lori L. (September 2004). "Speaking the Truth". Essence. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1264/is_5_35/ai_n6198441. Retrieved 2007-03-17.  
  7. ^ "Audre Lorde 1934 - 1992". Enotes.com. http://www.enotes.com/poetry-criticism/lorde-audre. Retrieved 2009-07-09.  
  8. ^ Birkle 202.
  9. ^ Lorde, Audre (1984). Sister Outsider. Berkeley: Crossing Press. p. 66. http://books.google.com/books?id=r3Ct8Qw3de8C.  
  10. ^ De Veaux 247.
  11. ^ Sister Outsider 110-114.
  12. ^ De Veaux 249.
  13. ^ Sister Outsider 132.
  14. ^ The Cancer Journals 12-13.
  15. ^ The Cancer Journals 17.
  16. ^ The Cancer Journals 31.
  17. ^ Birkle 180.

External links

Biographical information


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Audre Geraldine Lorde (February 18, 1934 in Harlem, New York City - 1992) was a multi-faceted writer and activist.

Sourced

  • 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

Attributed

  • It is not our differences that divide us. it is our inability to recognize, accept & celebrate those differences.
  • We must recognize and nurture the creative parts of each other without always understanding what will be created.
  • We are powerful because we have survived.
  • The erotic cannot be felt secondhand.
  • The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.
  • If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.
  • We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way.
  • For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.
  • Once we recognize what it is we are feeling, once we recognize we can feel deeply, love deeply, can feel joy, then we will demand that all parts of our lives produce that kind of joy.
  • My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I'm going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity.
  • 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.
  • Even the smallest victory is never to be taken for granted. Each victory must be applauded.
  • Our visions begin with our desires.
  • For women, then, 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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