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Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a self-described ‘black, mother, warrior, poet’.
Her work aimed to ‘demystify the assumption that these terms cannot inhabit the same space: Black and lesbian, lesbian and mother, mother and warrior, warrior and poet.’
Lorde was widely known by others as a Black feminist, poet, and lesbian
activist. She was the daughter of immigrants and lived in New York City. She
spoke, through her activism and her published works, on the importance of the struggle for liberation among oppressed peoples and of organising
intersectional activism across differences of race, class, gender, sexuality, age and ability.
She received many honours and awards, including the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit. Lorde served on the board of the Feminist Press in
New York City and often gave readings of her works at Judith’s Room, a
feminist bookstore in Greenwich Village. Lorde published her first volume of poetry, First Cities, in 1968 after leaving her job as a librarian. She began to reach a larger audience after the publication of Coal, by a major company in 1976. Soon after in 1978, followed what is often
thought of as one of her greatest works, The Black Unicorn, in which she
explored her African heritage.
One of the most defining moments of Audre Lorde’s career was her 1981
presentation at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference. The
part of the speech that most stood out to me was: ‘After fifteen years of a
women’s movement which professes to address the life concerns and
possible futures of all women, I still hear, on campus after campus, “How can we address the issues of racism? No Women of Colour attended.”
Here she addresses the problem of intersectionality within the women’s
movements, a problem that also existed within black rights movements.
These problems are still very prevalent in today’s activism and representation of social issues. Black women being doubly discriminated against was something too often overlooked and continues to be overlooked. And as a lesbian woman, Audre Lorde had insights into the intersections of racial, gender, and sexuality-based discrimination, which is part of why she is such an important figure in the history of social change.
Audre Lorde died of breast cancer at age 58 in 1992. She had cancer for 14
years and wrote The Cancer Journals in 1980, following her first stages of the disease. In this book, which is now a Penguin Classic, Lorde blends journal entry, memoir, and essay. She judges questions of survival, sexuality, prosthesis, and self-care.
In The Cancer Journals, Lorde wrote: ‘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.’
This statement embodies the way that Audre Lorde lived her life. She
confronted injustices of racism, homophobia, and sexism. Despite these being challenging and emotionally draining topics to broach on a regular basis, this was her life’s mission. The messages conveyed through her activism and poetry are still relevant lessons in today’s society, giving power and a voice to people facing injustice.