Audre Lorde. Black, female, lesbian, warior-poet. Or as her book title suggests, a black unicorn. She was born in New York City to carribbean immigrant parents in 1934. As a child, she read voraciously, including many poems. She would memorize them and whenever asked how she felt she, Audre would answer in the form of a poem. She started writing poetry when she found she didn’t know poems to describe certain feelings. She actually found writing in pros very hard and had to study extensively to ever feel comfortable doing it.
In 1954, she spent a year as a student in Mexico. The beautiful landscape reminded her of the stories her mother used to tell about Granada. Audre wrote incessantly. It was here that she affirmed the importance of her identity as a lesbian poet.
Within this identity she married Edwin Rollins, a gay white man in 1962. They had two children together, a daughter and a son. The short lived arrangement ended in 1970.
One of the primary causes of this split was, that Audre had met Frances Clayton, whom she would be in a relationship with for the majority of her life. She met Francis while teaching at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Audre spoke frequently about the impact teaching at Tougaloo had on her as a person. It helped her recognize the importance of her identity and the necessity to live that fully.
Here are posted different words that people use to identify and speak about themselves. Feel free to add one or two for yourself as you listen.
Audre liked to acknowledge the many layers of selfhood and the multicultural self. In the simplest terms, we all belong to different groups based on our gender, race, sexual orientation etc. No group that we belong to superseeds or excludes the other. Acknowledging and celebrating these various layers of self allows a person to be a part of a whole without losing their individual importance.
Audre was a poet, just as much as she was black, a woman, and a lesbian. Each identity was vital to own. In her book “The Cancer Journals” Audre said, "If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive."
This revelation became very real for her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was looking for a black lesbian poet who had survived cancer to inspire her. In not finding anyone, she realized that she was that person. She had to own her identity so that others like her could look to her. She did survive her fight with breast cancer, getting a masectomy.
For a large portion of Lorde’s life, she struggled with the ideas of “feminism” and being a “woman”. At the time, these terms seemed to be widely defined based on the experience of white women. There was not really room for the fact that the experience of black women was quite different.
Being a lesbian made her an outsider even within the the black comunity. But she knew the importance of being vocal and visible about this part of her identity too. Her book “Uses for the Erotic” is unabashedly sentual, owning her own sexuality and pronouncing the power of the sexual energy women posses.
Through her life Audre continued to teach and write. In 1984, Audre started a visiting professorship in West Berlin. There she became a pivotal voice in the Afro-German movement. Much of her final years were spent in Berlin, as in this time period she was diagnosed with liver cancer.
Audre Lorde died on the 17th of November 1992. Her life and work have been honored in many ways. She appears on the Chicago Legacy Walk, in the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor in New York, there are literary awards, and charity organizations that bear her name.
To me it seems the best way to honor Audre is for people to read her work and let it inspire them. Inspire them to relentlessly pursue radical inclusivity. And to be profoundly, proudly, and loudly themselves.