Audre Lorde


Audre Geraldine Lorde was a critically acclaimed novelist, poet and essayist. She was born on February 18, 1924 in Harlem and died on November 17, 1992. Her parents were immigrants from Granada who seemed to continually plan to return to the Caribbean throughout most of Lorde's childhood. Lorde recalled that as a child, she spoke in poetry. When she couldn't find existing poems that expressed her feelings, she began to write poems at age twelve or thirteen. She attended Hunter College High School and then supported herself with low paying jobs. Her first lesbian affair was with a coworker at a factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She attended the National University of Mexico for a year, starting in 1954. Upon her return, she entered the "gay girl" scene in Greenwich Village but was often the only Black woman in the bars. She recalled that she did not try to build ties to the other three or four Black women in the scene as it seemed to threaten their status as exotic outsiders. She began to study at Hunter College, worked as a librarian, and, of course, wrote poetry. She attempted to join the Harlem Writers Guild but the overt homophobia of the group led her to leave. She received a BA in literature and philosophy from Hunter in 1959 and an MLS from Columbia University in 1960.

For several years, she worked as a librarian in Mount Vernon and then New York City. In 1962, she married Edward Rollins, an attorney. They had two children but divorced in 1970.

Lorde's first book of poems, The First Cities, was published in 1968. She spent six weeks as a writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. This was of great important to Lorde's life as she met Frances Clayton. From that point on, she and Frances shared their lives together.

In New York, Lorde taught writing courses at City College and courses on racism at both Lehman College and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her second book of poetry, Cable to Rage, appeared in 1970. Neither it, nor The First Cities, contained any lesbian content. In 1971, Lorde publicly read a lesbian love poem for the first time. It was later published in Ms. Magazine but was rejected by her editor for inclusion in her third volume of poetry, From a Land Where Other People Live. This book was nominated for a National Book Award in 1974. The prize was awarded to her colleague, Adrienne Rich, but Rich indicated she accepted the award "not as an individual but in the name of all women whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world" as part of a joint statement with Lorde and fellow nominee Alice Walker. Lorde's next volume of poetry, Coal, was published by W. W. Norton. Coal and its successor, The Black Unicorn, in 1978 was widely reviewed and reached a commercial audience.

In 1980, Lorde published the autobiographical Cancer Journals, in which she courageously wrote about her mastectomy and her decision to pursue alternate treatment when the cancer recurred. Other works include Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982) and Sister Outsider (1984). The latter is a collection of essays often included in the curriculum in women studies programs. Lorde was a cofounder of The Kitchen Table-Women of Color Press and an editor of the lesbian journal Chrysalis.

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