Audre Lorde, a self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” was a writer, feminist, womanist, and civil rights activist. For Lorde, writing proved to be her powerful weapon against injustice. Painfully aware that differences could provoke prejudice and violence, she promoted the bridging of barriers.
Lorde began writing poetry at age twelve. She was inspired by poets such as Keats, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Helene Margaret. As the first Black student at Hunter High School, a public school for intellectually gifted girls, she worked on the school newspaper and published her first poem, “Spring, ” in Seventeen Magazine in 1951.
Her homo-erotic feelings began to emerge during her teenage years, through various crushes on female peers and teachers. So after graduation from high school, Lorde left her parents’ home and attended Hunter College. She surrounded herself with leftist thinkers and lesbian friends.
Audre Lorde dedicated her life to combating social injustice. She helped found Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the world’s first publishing company run by women of color.
She was also a founding member of Sisters in Support of Sisters in South Africa, an organization that worked to raise concerns about women under apartheid.
In 1968, Lorde received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and published her first volume of poetry, “The First Cities” as a poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. She began a romantic relationship with Frances Clayton that same year that would last until Lorde’s death in 1992.
As a poet, she is best known for technical mastery and emotional expression, as well as her poems that express anger and outrage at civil and social injustices she observed throughout her life.Her poems and prose largely deal with issues related to civil rights, feminism, and the exploration of black female identity.
Lorde won international acclaim for her poetry and prose, and was Poet Laureate of New York state from 1990 until 1991.
As a lecturer in 1970, Lorde engaged diverse student bodies on the interlocking identities of class, race, and gender, with history and culture.
Lorde reached audiences with her numerous writings. She published 15 books of poetry and prose, including 1984′s “Sister Outsider,” which is often included in the curriculum of women’s studies programs. In 1983, “Zami” hit the shelves. Lorde referred to it as a “biomythography,” but it was essentially her autobiography.
In addition to poetry, Audre Lorde was a powerful essayist and writer. In terms of her nonfiction work, she is best remembered for The Cancer Journals (1980), in which she documents her own struggle with breast cancer. Having undergone a mastectomy, Lorde refused to be victimized by the disease. Instead, she considered herself—and other women like her—to be warriors. The cancer later spread to her liver and this latest battle with the disease informs the essay collection, A Burst of Light (1989). This time, she chose to pursue alternative treatments rather than to opt for more surgery.
Dying on November 17, 1992, on the island of St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Audre Lorde spent a lifetime exploring the pleasures and pain of being a black woman in America. Lorde’s was an essential voice in African American literature.
As a lesbian woman of color Lorde asserted, “I 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.”
“Lorde was a woman for all times and all people.”