Audre Lorde


Audre Lorde

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

Life

Lorde was born in New York City to Caribbean immigrants Frederick Byron Lorde and Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde, who settled in Harlem. Nearsighted to the point of being legally blind, and the youngest of three daughters, 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.

After graduating from Hunter College High School, Lorde attended Hunter College from 1954 to 1959 and graduated with a bachelors 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.

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.

During a year in residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, funded by a National Endowment for the Arts grant, Lorde met Frances Clayton, a white professor of psychology, the woman who was to be her romantic partner until 1989, after which she became involved with Gloria Joseph, her partner until her death on November 17, 1992, in St. Croix, after a 14-year struggle with breast cancer.

In her own words, Lorde was a "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet". [cite news | last = Tharps | first = Lori L. | coauthors = | title = Speaking the Truth | work = Essence | pages = | language = | publisher = | date = September 2004 | url = http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1264/is_5_35/ai_n6198441 | accessdate = 2007-03-17 ] 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 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 , the first U.S. publisher for women of colour. Lorde was State Poet of New York from 1991 to 1992. [cite web | url= http://www.enotes.com/poetry-criticism/lorde-audre | title= Audre Lorde at eNotes.com | accessdate=2007-01-05 | format= |work= ]

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'". [Birkle 202.] In a period during which feminism was run by 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.

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". [De Veaux 247.]

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" (compiled in "Sister Outsider"), Lorde attacked the underlying racism of feminism, describing it as unrecognised 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". [De Veaux 249.]

Thus did she enrage a great deal of 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.fact|date=February 2008

Poetry

A contemporary of such feminist poets as Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, Lorde also expressed her femininity 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". ["The Cancer Journals" 12-13.] She described herself both as a part of a "continuum of women" ["The Cancer Journals" 17.] and a "concert of voices" within herself. ["The Cancer Journals" 31.]

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". [Birkle 180] 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. cite book|title=|isbn=3770530837|oclc=34821525

De Veaux, Alexis. "Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde." New York and London: W.W. Norton, 2004. cite book|title=|isbn=0393019543|oclc=53315369

Hall, Joan Wylie. "Conversations with Audre Lorde." Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004. cite book|title=|isbn=1578066425|oclc=55762793

cite book |last=Keating |first=AnaLouise |title=Women Reading Women Writing: Self-Invention in Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Audre Lorde |year=1996 |publisher=Temple University Press |location=Philadelphia, PA |isbn=1566394198 |oclc=33160820

Lorde, Audre:
*"The First Cities" (1968)cite book|title=|isbn=|oclc=
*"Cables to Rage" (1970)cite book|title=|isbn=|oclc=
*"From a Land Where Other People Live" (1973)cite book|title=|isbn=|oclc=
*"New York Head Shop and Museum" (1974)cite book|title=|isbn=|oclc=
*"Coal" (1976)cite book|title=|isbn=0393044394|oclc=2074270
*"Between Our Selves" (1976)cite book|title=|isbn=|oclc=
*"The Black Unicorn" (1978, W.W. Norton Publishing)cite book|title=|isbn=0393045080|oclc=3966122
*"The Cancer Journals" (1980 Aunt Lute Books)cite book|title=|isbn=|oclc=
*"" (1982)cite book|title=|isbn=0393015769|oclc=8114592
*"" (1983, The Crossing Presscite book|title=|isbn=|oclc=)
*"Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches" (1984, 2007, The Crossing Press)cite book|title=|isbn=|oclc=
*"Our Dead Behind Us" (1986)cite book|title=|isbn=039302329X|oclc=13870929
*"A Burst of Light" (1988, Firebrand Books)cite book|title=|isbn=0932379400|oclc=17619136
*"The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance" (1993)cite book|title=|isbn=0393311708|oclc=38009170

ee also

* Audre Lorde Project, an organization in New York City named for Audre Lorde
* Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, an organization in New York City named for Michael Callen and Audre Lorde.
* Teaching for social justice
* Black Feminism
* Black lesbianism
* Womanism
* Critical social theory
* Black women’s literature
* Literary criticism
* African-American literature

Notes

External links

*

Biographical information

* [http://www.lambda.net/~maximum/lorde.html Maximum Files]
* [http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/RYAN.HTML Biography]
* [http://www.colorado.edu/journals/standards/V5N1/Lorde/lorde_toc.html A Tribute to Audre Lorde]
* [http://voices.cla.umn.edu/vg/Bios/entries/lorde_audre.html Voices From the Gaps: Audre Lorde]
* [http://www.jenniferabod.com/video.htm The Edge of Each Other's Battles: The Vision of Audre Lorde] - a documentary by Jennifer Abod
* [http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/lorde/life.htm Audre Lorde's Life - Modern American Poetry]


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