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Born to West Indian parents in Harlem, New York, Audre Lorde would grow up to inspire and motivated her entire generation and many more there after. Audrey Geraldine Lorde was born on February 18, 1934. Audre decided to drop the "y" from the end of her name at a young age, setting a precedent in her life of self determination and choice. She was the daughter of Caribbean immigrants who settled in Harlem. Both her parents were from St Croix, Virgin Islands. Her mother was an inspiration to her and encouraged her to write. Her first poem was discouraged from her High School teachers as being too romantic and an advisor even told her not to bother trying to get it published. Not being one to leave issues unchallenged, Audre sent her publication into Seventeen Magazine who published her work. This early vote of confidence carried Lorde to publish over a dozen books on poetry, and six books of prose in her life. Audre saw the value in those Americans who exist on the margins of our society and honored them with her poetry, energy and sensitivity (Alexander 195). After high school Lorde attended HunterCollege and continued her pursuit of higher education at The University of Colombia where she obtained a Masters of Library Science. At the time society had certain expectations of women. Audre had taken jobs as a Liberian, factory worker, ghost writer, social worker, X-ray technician, medical clerk, and arts and crafts supervisor; however she felt a higher calling. Audre wanted change and sought out to involve herself in arguably the most important front of her time. She took a job in Mississippi at a college. This was a fundamental step towards her future activism and fight for equality. With this new career, Audre Lorde experienced the Civil Rights Movement first hand, “it changed my life (Alexander, 196).” The feeling of doing something which mattered and made a difference struck an emotional tie with her. She also began to find her writing focus. Her works focused on the plight of minorities and the underclass. Her writings protest against the swallowing of black American culture by an indifferent white population, against the perpetuation of sex discrimination, and against the neglect of the movement for gay rights. Her poetry, however, is not entirely political in content. It is extremely romantic in nature and is illustrated with, passion, sincerity, perception, and depth of feeling. Later on she would discover and embrace her homosexuality. Audre found it particularly hard being a black homosexual female, in a world dominated by white heterosexual males. Being different was not something new to her so she also fought for justice on each of these minority fronts. Fortunately, Audre Lorde did not have to pass on to have her works acknowledged and honored; she received numerous academic and literary awards, which captivated millions of readers. Specifically, The National Endowment for the Arts grants, recipient of Creative Artists Public Service grants, National Book Award nominee for poetry, for From a Land Where Other People Live. Also, the Broadside Poets Award, Detroit, Woman of the Year from Staten Island Community College, Borough of Manhattan President's Award for literary excellence, finally and possibly most prestigious, The Walt Whitman Citation of Merit, poet laureate of New York in 1991 (Emory University, February 27th 2007).” Her literary contributions began with her first book The First Cities, which focused on feelings and relationships. Lorde’s second book, Cables to Rage The poems focused on several themes: the transience of human love, the existence of human betrayal, birth, and love. These poems had a huge impact on society, and her admirer’s because it described her anger at many social injustices of the day, and also admitted her lesbianism. The latter would cause and led to her divorce. She was married for eight years in the 1960's, to an Attorney Edwin Rollins; of which she had two children with, Elizabeth and Jonathan. After the divorce Audre spent most of the remainder of her life with a romantic feminine partner, Frances Clayton. Her next important work was, From a Land where Other People Live was Nominated for a National Book Award, this volume portrayed a quiet anger of global injustice and oppression along with more personal themes of nurturing, tenderness and love for her children. The New York Head Shop and Museum, viewed as her most political and rhetorical work was published in 1974. She wrote from the perspective of a city dweller, the poems in this volume express her visions of life in New York City, intertwined with themes of what it is like to be a woman, a mother and Black. Coal, was a huge accomplishment because it was released by a major publisher. It contained a compilation of her first two books. Her seventh book of poetry, The Black Unicorn published in 1978, is considered to be her most revealing work and the climax of her poetic and personal vision, truly extraordinary work. Audre writes as a Black woman, a mother, a daughter, a Lesbian, a feminist, a visionary. These poems secured her mark in history. Unfortunately her life took a turn for the worst when she was diagnosed with cancer. This was the most important work of Lorde, The Cancer Journals. This startling personal collection of essays dealt with her battle with cancer. The Cancer Journals won the American Library Association Gay Caucus Book of the Year. Zami, A new spelling of my name: is her autobiography. These were the main literary contributions during her lifetime. Audre was a firm believe in the influence of poetry, “Poetry is an absolute necessity of our living because it delineates . . . it the beginning of that process by which we insure the future because we know so much more than we understand. We must first examine our feelings for questions, because all the rest has been programmed. We have been taught how to understand, and in terms that will insure not creativity, but the status quo (Poetry and Activism, February 27th, 2007).” Audre Lorde was motivated to do more then publish her thoughts and disagreements with society; she traveled and gained inspiration from it. While in South Africa, Audre confounded a woman’s advocacy organization for South Africans, called Sisterhood in Support of Sisters. This organization focused on the livening and spiritual conditions of women in impoverished circumstances. At this time she took a new name, “Gambia Adisa which means Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known (Alexander, 1998).” It is a name that applies to her whole life. Her struggle against oppression on many fronts was expressed with a force and clarity that made her a respected voice for women, African Americans, and the Gay and Lesbian community. Audre also spent a lot of her life helping her home country St. Croix, in the Caribbean. While visiting she founded a domestic violence prevention group for indigenous women called The St Croix Women’s Coalition. However, her contributions did not end there. Aside from her writer and activism, she was an educator. She held numerous teaching positions as stated above, also had the opportunity to tour the world as a lecturer. She formed coalitions between Afro-German and Afro-Dutch women, and began Kitchen Table: Women of Color Pres which concentrates exclusively on publishing and distributing works of women of color from various communities. These are her most famous contribution, however it does not take into account the many individual lives she has inspired, mine included. I choose a woman who inspired all walks of life and motivated us to take action in our own lives. A person who had many struggles throughout her life, and selflessly got involved in the Civil Rights Movement as a way to fight for equality, among other world injustices. Each of her literary works is as important as the other; however I find The Cancer Journals to be the most moving of all. Lorde courageously documented her 14-year battle against cancer in the journals as well as in her book of essays A Burst of Light. In the latter Audre wrote: “The struggle with cancer now informs all my days, but it is only another face of that continuing battle for self-determination and survival that black women fight daily, often in triumph (Obourn, 237).'' Her fight gave me great inspiration in my life, it put everything in perspective. A simple woman was able to create so much change and fight so hard for not only her own life but those lives that were unjust. Audre Lorde, died in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, on November 17, 1992. Her spirit fights on. Cancer patients and non cancer patients can both get a lot out of The Cancer Journals. Her works were beneficiary to everyone, and I believe this is why her poems, organization, foundations and essays were so successful. From her going back home to St. Croix to spend her remaining days, I could not help but admire her attachment to her roots. I am of West Indian decent and know many others who come to America and Canada to find more opportunity and end up living here and not going back home (Trinidad and Tobago) to better the place we learned so much from. I have been struggling trying to find methods and ways I can help my country, the organizations and foundations which Audre created, I will incorporate into my own form of activism. I will be using her ideas to form my final project in this class as well. The teaching position, she took at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi was the center for violence in regards to the civil rights movement. She chose to deal with this issue and wanted to experience it first hand. This period paved the bond between her artistic talents and her dedication to the struggle against injustice. Fighting on the front lines when one does not have to, is the strongest form of activism. She chose to do what few would do and took the road less traveled. That action in itself is why I admire her. Audre has not only helped on the American front but on an international level. She created an organization for South Africans, called Sisterhood in Support of Sisters. This was a political committee which focused on the betterment of societies women. At the time South Africa was having its own turmoil and political hardships however Audre saw the suffrage and had to help. Throughout my research I continue to ask myself how many times have I witnessed suffering and unnecessary harm against humanity and did nothing, to many times. Fortunately Lorde gives me the encouragement to what ever I can no matter how small, help is help. “Even the smallest victory is never to be taken for granted. Each victory must be applauded (Poetry and Activism, February 27th, 2007).”Growing up in the Caribbean, I have witnessed what Mother Nature can do and how hard it is to get help from surrounding nations in times of great need. Audre helped organize disaster relief efforts for St. Croix in the wake of Hurricane Hugo. I find myself identifying a lot with her, because so many times in my life I want to help and make a difference but for one excuse or another I do not act. I know I am not the only one who can relate to her, which is why I believe she gained such popularity. The other organization she founded was in St. Croix while visiting. Audre founded a domestic violence prevention group for indigenous women called The St Croix Women’s Coalition. Violence against women is a worldwide crisis that is now gaining international attention. Audre saw this as a growing problem back then and was able to act on it. As violence against women continues to be a problem hopefully her coalition will resolve those problems, and if successful can be implemented in other parts of the world. Her children also took great inspiration from their great mother. Lorde's son Jonathan Rollins recalled the warrior spirit that his mother possessed by stating that not fighting was not an option, "We could lose. But we couldn't not fight (Walk, 821)." I tried to research the lives of her children as well but was unable to get solid information on them. It is also important to note that Lorde wrote of racism in the feminist movement, sexism among African Americans, and of lesbians and love. She not only wrote for herself, but for her children and women as well. She wrote for people who could read her, who would be able to hear what she had to say. She wrote for women who had no voice of their own. She particularly wrote for black women because she felt there were very few voices for black women out there. She wrote for the women terrified to speak because they are taught to respect fear more than themselves. Lorde wrote particularly for women of color in many countries. Whether she had a premonition that her works would be so influential or not, they still stand as such today. A student of hers was quoted as saying “Audre put an excitement and intensively into her classes that made us feel like whatever we were discussion was the most fascinating topic in the world (Alexander 198).” Hopefully those who were fortunate enough to learn first hand from her would be able to live their lives thorough her teachings.
Through Audre Lords quotes and my research of her I have come across many life lessons. “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives (Poetry and Activism, February 27th, 2007).” This brings up the pen is more powerful then the sword. Through her words she was able to make such a difference. I am a firm believer in the pen is more powerful then the sword, I have seen it happen in cases where editorials from news papers are taken seriously and action is taken. Almost every critic who has written on Audre Lorde has made the argument that her work is "transformational. (Obourn, 219).” Audre also thanks people like Gloria Hull, Barbara Smith, Pat Bell-Scott, Erlene Stenson, and others in her interviews. This makes the point that she wasn’t not helped or inspired her self, that there was people before her who helped and motivated her. She did not become who she is on her own, and without any help. Thanking those who helped her shows the humbleness in her, a very noble quality. Accepting help and helping others go hand in hand. I have learned this lesson throughout my life and know how true it is. “If we are looking for something which is new and something which is vital, we must look first into the chaos within ourselves. That will help us in the directions that we need to go, that's why our poetry is so essential, is so vital. (Poetry and Activism, February 27th, 2007).” This further exemplifies the need for education and the importance of writing. "The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives (Poetry and Activism, February 27th, 2007).” I consider myself an activist and will continue to try to help those I can throughout my lifetime. The way we live our lives is a direct example of how we will influence others. If someone is only trying to help themselves get by, then those around them will not be encouraged to do different. One of the best life lessons I have gained from Audre Lorde is "I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood (Poetry and Activism, February 27th, 2007)." If you are passionate about something then speak your opinion. We should not be afraid of being different or being afraid of expressing ones opinion and thoughts. This was the greatest life lesson that I have gotten from her. Even if our opinion is criticized we should still be content to speak it. “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support. audre Lorde (Ortega, 57).” This was actually discussed in another class of mine, and I was amazed to see how many areas this can apply to. This statement was ingenious and can be used in almost everything. “World travel is an important contribution to the problem of difference within the women’s movement. It is an appeal to travel, to try to experience and thus to understand the world of others who are different; it opens the possibility for crossing racial and ethnic boundaries (Ortega, 68-69).” Anyone can read about other countries and its struggles however it is when you experience this first hand do you truly understand the situation. However, you can take this further buy incorporating all injustices, not only in the women’s arena. Audre Lorde spoke for herself and expressed her opinions publicly. She showed a great passion for caring for humanity. Being diagnosed with cancer only gave her another issue to address an issue which she took and discussed in full detail. These qualities among others such as bravery I take as life lessons because it displays what she used to inspire and make change. Even in times when I believe there is nothing that can be done, I look at her life and her struggles and find inspiration and motivation to push forward.
1) EmoryUniversity: Department of English, February 28th, 2007.
2) University of Minnesota, March 1st, 2007
Voices from the Gaps, Women Artists and Writers of Color
3) University of Illinois: Department of English: February 27th, 2007
Audre Lorde on Poetry and Activism
Scholarly Journal Articles
4) Author: Ortega, Mariana
Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Color.
Hypatia; Summer2006, Vol. 21 Issue 3, p56-74, 19p
5) Author: Walk, Lori L.
Audre Lorde’s Life Writing: The Politics of Location.
Women's Studies; Dec2003, Vol. 32 Issue 7, p815, 20p
6) Author: Obourn, Megan1
Audre Lorde: Trauma Theory and Liberal Multiculturalism.
MELUS; Fall2005, Vol. 30 Issue 3, p219-245, 27p
7) A Shining Thread of Hope
Authors: Darlene Clark Hine and Kathleen Thompson
Copyright 1998 by Broadway Books. New York, NY10036 (page294)
8) Fifty Black Women Who Changed America
Author: Amy Alexander
Copyright 1999 by Kensington Publishing Corp.