Discipline: Literature – nonfiction, Literature – poetry

Audre Lorde

Discipline: Literature – nonfiction, Literature – poetry
Region: Staten Island, NY
MacDowell fellowships: 1979, 1983

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a native New Yorker and daughter of Caribbean immigrants. Both her activism and her published work speak to the importance of struggle for liberation among oppressed peoples and of organizing in coalition across differences of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, age and ability.

In 1968, Lorde published her first volume of poetry, First Cities, and she left her job as a head librarian at Town School Library in New York City. That year she taught a poetry workshop at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, witnessing first-hand the deep racial tensions in the south. There she would publish her second volume of poetry entitled Cables to Rage (1970), which took on themes of love, deceit, and family, and which also addressed her own sexuality in the poem, "Martha." She would later teach at John Jay College and Hunter College in New York.

Lorde's third volume of poetry, From a Land Where Other People Live (1973), earned a lot of praise and was nominated for a National Book Award. In this volume she explored issues of identity as well as concerns about global issues. Her next work, New York Head Shop and Museum (1975), was more overtly political than her earlier poem collections.

With the publication of Coal by a major book company in 1976, Lorde began to reach a larger audience. The Black Unicorn (1978) soon followed. In this volume, Lorde explored her African heritage. It is considered one of her greatest works by many critics. Throughout her poetry and other writings she tackled topics that were important to her as a woman of color, lesbian, mother, and feminist.

Lorde also wrote essays and nonfiction, including 1980's The Cancer Journals (1980), in which she documents her own struggle with breast cancer. Having undergone a mastectomy, Lorde refused to be victimized by the disease. Instead, she considered herself—and other women like her—to be warriors. An essay collection, A Burst of Light (1989), was written about a recurrence of the disease. The Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which is dedicated to providing healthcare to the New York City's LGBTQ population, is named for Lorde and AIDS activist Michael Callen.

An internationally recognized activist and artist, Audre Lorde was the recipient of many honors and awards, including the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit, which conferred the mantle of New York State poet for 1991-1993. In designating her New York State’s Poet Laureate, Governor Mario Cuomo observed: “Her imagination is charged by a sharp sense of racial injustice and cruelty, of sexual prejudice…. She cries out against it as the voice of indignant humanity. Audre Lorde is the voice of the eloquent outsider who speaks in a language that can reach and touch people everywhere.”


Portrait by Jack Mitchell, courtesy the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Main source: biography.com

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Heyward

Audre Lorde worked in the Heyward studio.

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