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Lorde, Audre

Lorde, Audre

February 18, 1934
November 17, 1992

The poet, novelist, and teacher Audre Geraldine Lorde was born in Harlem to West Indian parents. She described herself as "a black lesbian feminist mother lover poet." The exploration of pain, rage, and love in personal and political realms pervades her writing. Perhaps because Lorde did not speak until she was nearly five years old and also suffered from impaired vision, her passions were equally divided between a love of words and imagery and a devotion to speaking the truth, no matter how painful. Her objective, she stated, was to empower and encourage toward speech and action those in society who are often silenced and disfranchised.

Lorde published her first poem while in high school, in Seventeen magazine. She studied for a year (1954) at the National University of Mexico, before returning to the United States to earn a bachelor of arts degree in literature and philosophy from Hunter College in 1959. She went on to receive a master's degree from the Columbia School of Library Science in 1960. During this time she married attorney Edward Ashley Rollins and had two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan. Lorde and Rollins divorced in 1970. Juggling her roles as black woman, lesbian, mother, and poet, she was actively involved in causes for social justice. Throughout this period she was a member of the Harlem Writers Guild.

An important juncture in Lorde's life occurred in 1968, when she published her first collection of poetry, The First Cities, and also received a National Endowment for the Arts Residency Grant, which took her to Tougaloo College in Mississippi. This appointment represented the beginning of Lorde's career as a full-time writer and teacher. Returning to New York, she continued to teach and publish. In 1973, her third book, From a Land Where Other People Live, was nominated for the National Book Award for Poetry. It was praised for its attention to racial oppression and injustice around the world. She spent ten years on the faculty of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and then became professor of English at her alma mater, Hunter College, in 1980. She wrote three more books of poetry before the appearance of The Black Unicorn (1978), for which she received the widest acclaim and recognition. It fuses themes of motherhood and feminism while placing African spiritual awakening and black pride at its center.

Lorde's devotion to honesty and outspokenness is evident in the works she produced in the 1980s. She published her first nonpoetry work, The Cancer Journals (1980), so she could share the experience of her cancer diagnosis, partial mastectomy, and apparent triumph over the disease with as wide an audience as possible. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982) was enthusiastically received as her first prose fiction work. Self-described as a "biomythography," it is considered a lyrical and evocative autobiographical novel. She was a founding member of both Women of Color Press and Sisters in Support of Sisters in South Africa.

Sister Outsider (1984), a collection of speeches and essays spanning the years 1976 to 1984, details Lorde's evolution as a black feminist thinker and writer. In 1986, she returned to poetry with Our Dead behind Us. Another work, Burst of Light (1988), which won an American Book Award, chronicles the spread of Lorde's cancer to her liver, and presents a less hopeful vision of the future than The Cancer Journals. Lorde's poetry appeared regularly in magazines and journals and has been widely anthologized. In 1991 she became the poet laureate of New York State. She died in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

See also Caribbean/North American Writers (Contemporary); Literature of the United States; Poetry, U.S.


"Audre Lorde." In Gay and Lesbian Biography. Detroit: St. James Press, 1997.

"Audre Lorde." In Black Literature Criticism. Detroit: Gale, 1992.

Christian, Barbara. "Dynamics of Difference." Women's Review of Books 1, no. 11 (August 1984): 67.

Obituary. New York Times, November 20, 1992.

Stepto, R. B. "Audre Lorde: The Severed Daughter." In American Women Poets, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

nicole r. king (1996)
Updated bibliography

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