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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde, a black, lesbian, feminist, warrior poet, was the youngest of three daughters born to Linda and Frederic Byron Lorde, who immigrated to New York City from Granada, the West Indies. Lorde’s parents came to the United States with two plans. First they hoped to reap the financial rewards of hard work, and then they planned to return to their island home in grand style. But with the stockmarket crash of 1929, they were forced to abandon both dreams.

As a child, Lorde was inarticulate; in fact, she didn’t speak until she was five years old. Even when she began talking, she spoke in poetry; that is, she would recite a poem in order to express herself. Hence, poetry literally became her language of communication, and she believed that “the sensual content of life was masked and cryptic, but attended in well-coded phrases.” She also learned to see herself as “a reflection of [her] mother’s secret poetry as well as of her hidden anger.” Giving expression to this reflection has been the impetus for much of her work.

Lorde attended Hunter High School and received the B.A. in 1959 from Hunter College and the M.L.S. in 1961 from Columbia University. In 1962 she married Edwin Ashley Rollins and gave birth to two children: Elizabeth and Jonathan. The marriage ended in divorce. In 1968 Lorde decided to become a full-time poet, leaving her job as head librarian of the City University of New York to become a poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Before her death, Lorde was Poet and Professor of English at Hunter College of the City University of New York.

Lorde insisted that she wrote to fulfill her responsibility “to speak the truth as [she felt] it, and to attempt to speak it with as much precision and beauty as possible.” She described her life’s work in terms of survival and teaching, two themes that dominate her prose and verse. Her power and high productivity arose from her living out these ambitions by confronting her own mortality, her own fear and the opposition of those who tried to silence her.

All of her work resonates with courage, in which she advises us “Not to be afraid of difference. To be real, tough, loving.” “Even if you are afraid,” she adds, “do it anyway because we learn to work when we are tired, so we can learn to work when we are afraid.” In Lorde’s later works her vision arises from celebrating the legends of strong black women, especially her mother. In Zami: A New Spelling of My Name she combines autobiography, history, and myth to create a new literary form that she calls, “biomythography.” Zami and Our Dead Behind Us, especially, signify the “strong triad of grandmother mother daughter,” and “recreate in words the women who helped give [her] substance.” They are her “mattering core”; they invigorate Lorde’s visions of life and art with power.

Claudia Tate
George Washington University

In the Heath Anthology
Never Take Fire from a Woman (1978)
Power (1978)
Walking Our Boundaries (1978)
The Master's Tools (1979)
Stations (1986)
The Art of Response (1986)

Other Works
The First Cities (1970)
Cables to Rage (1973)
From a Land Where Other People Live (1973)
New York Head Shop and Museum (1974)
Between Ourselves (1976)
Coal (1976)
The Black Unicorn (1978)
The Erotic as Power (1978)
The Cancer Journals (1980)
Chosen Poems: Old and New (1982)
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982)
Sister Outsider (1984)
Apartheid USA (1986)
I Am Your Sister (1986)
Our Dead Behind Us (1986)
A Burst of Light: Essays (1992)
Undersong: Chosen Poems, Old and New (1992)

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A Tribute
Contains several essays about Lorde and the texts of three poems.

Audre Lorde
A biographical sketch.

Audre Lorde on Being a Black Lesbian Feminist
A brief interview conducted by Karla Hammond.

The Audre Lorde Project Inc.
Information about the Project housed by the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, and Transgender People of Color Communities.

Voices from the Gaps
A biography, criticism, aselected bibliography, and links.

Secondary Sources