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Poet of the Month: Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

posted: 2.10.10 by archived

Audre Lorde, born on February 18th, 1934, was just as admirable for her activism as for her poetry. Indeed for Lorde the two were inextricably connected.

A native New Yorker born to Grenadian parents, Lorde attended high school and college in Manhattan. As a child she dropped the “y” from her given first name, “Audrey”, because she liked the symmetry between the “e” endings of her first and last names. What poet wouldn’t do the same?

Starting in the 1960’s, Lorde became a civil rights activist. However, as a black lesbian woman, she struggled with racism in the feminist community, sexism in the black community, and heterosexism and homophobia everywhere. Her essays urge her readers to stop fearing the differences between individuals—the fear leads to exclusion, and one group almost inevitably declares itself superior to the other.

In the late 1970s, Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 1980 she published The Cancer Journals, a nonfiction memoir of her cancer experience. She also co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in the same year. In 1991, she was named poet laureate of New York state. She continued to write poetry and essays until her death from cancer in 1992.

You can read Lorde’s essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” in Sister Outsider on Google Books.

Listen to a 1977 clip of her reading “A Song for Many Movements” at Poets.org.

The Poetry Foundation has a biography and full text of eleven of Lorde’s poems.

Lorde’s poems and life can show students that not all poets are on a Search for Truth, or trying to Create Beauty, or Express their Innermost Feelings. Sometimes these pursuits are abstract to students: what do they have to do with the real world? Why should anyone study them?

Audre Lorde used her search for truth, and the beauty of language, and her personal experience, to tell people about injustice and try to change American society.

As she said to poet Mari Evans in “Conversations with Audre Lorde,”

“So the question of social protest and art is inseparable for me. I can’t say it is an either/or position…I loved poetry and I loved words. But what was beautiful had to serve the purpose of changing my life, or I would have died. If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.”

Happy Birthday, Audre Lorde!

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Categories: Joelle Hann (moderator), Uncategorized
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