Friday, 23 January 2015


        BLACK        SOCIAL      HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                  

 Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde.jpg
Audre Lorde, Austin, Texas, 1980
BornFebruary 18, 1934
New York CityNew York
DiedNovember 17, 1992 (aged 58)
Saint CroixU.S. Virgin Islands
OccupationPoet, writer, activist, essayist
EthnicityAfrican American
GenrePoetry, non-fiction
Audre Lorde (/ˈɔːdri lɔrd/; born Audrey Geraldine Lorde, February 18, 1934 – November 17, 1992) was a Caribbean-Americanwriter, radical feministwomanist, lesbian, and civil rights activist. Lorde served as an inspiration to women worldwide, one of her most notable efforts being her activist work with Afro-German women in the 1980s. Her identity as a black lesbian gave her work a novel perspective and put her in a unique position to speak 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

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 inHarlem. 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]
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 toStamford, Connecticut, and beginning to explore her lesbian sexuality.[citation needed]
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 UniversityEARNING 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 Tougaloo College in Mississippi,[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] By that time, Audre Lorde's key texts had already been disseminating around Europe, especially around Germany, and impacting the lives and mentalities of different black women.
The film is a Documentary Cinema. 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/or progression. Documentaries are very selective as to who gets attention, who gets to be shown and who's story gets to be told. This means that it is a constructed narrative, a constructed picture in essence. [8]
In Audre Lorde the Berlin Years (film), we are afforded with being able to look at what it was like for Audre Lorde to spend time in Berlin and grow (with) the Afro-German women’s movement between 1984 and 1992. The main speaker of this film is Audre Lorde herself and the (intergenerational) women who interacted with her during this early period of the movement. Throughout this time, Audre Lorde provided a lot of support to Afro-German women in terms of building community, offering her own theoretical analysis, and posing important questions.
Audre Lorde urged Afro-German and Black German women to raise their voices and make demands from the racist society they all lived in. While Audre Lorde certainly wasn't solely responsible for the Afro-German Movement, and the struggles and agency of the Afro-German women themselves needs to be centered, Afro-German women who were impacted by Audre Lorde write about her and what she meant for their lives.
One place where this is notable is in the monumental anthology, Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out (Book). In this collection, edited by May AyimKatharina 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 this way, we can see how important Audre Lorde was and CONTINUES to be in the linking of struggles of women of color, and more specifically Black women, all over the world.
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] Hügel-Marshall really details those everyday moment she spent with Audre Lorde that gives us another perspective on the Black Caribbean writer and poet-activist. She talks about having vacationed with Audre Lorde and her partner, for instance, in St. Croix.
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. In fact, Kraft organized poetry readings for her in Germany. She also remembers early meetings of Afro-German women with Audre Lorde and their conversations. In the end, she really highlights the importance of international exchanges and organizing.

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][citation needed]
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 "blacklesbian, 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 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 rightsanti-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.


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.[citation needed] 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] Lorde 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 feminist.[citation needed]
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 with white male slave-masters, describing both as "agents of oppression".[36]
In so doing, she angered 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.[citation needed] Suffering was a condition universal to women, they claimed, and to accuse feminists of racism would cause divisiveness rather than heal it.[citation needed] In response, Lorde wrote "what you hear in my voice is fury, not suffering. Anger, not moral authority".[37]


In 2014 Lorde was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people.[38][39]


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