Perhaps one of the most famous and often quoted writers of our time, Audre was born on February 18, 1934, in New York City of West Indian parents, Lorde was educated at Hunter College and Columbia University. Upon completing a master’s degree in library studies in 1961 at Columbia University, she initially worked as a librarian in New York.
In 1962, she married Edwon Ashley Rollins and had two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan. Ultimately, the marriage failed. After her divorce from Rollins in 1970, Lorde began to have long-term relationships with women.
Throughout her life, Lorde fought for African Americans’ rights both as an activist and as a writer. The political nature of her work is obvious in essays such as "Apartheid U.S.A" and "I am your Sister," where, while stressing the need for women to organize across sexualities, she examines the way that black lesbians are stereotyped by whites as well as by blacks.
Lesbianism for Lorde had a broad definition. While using the term to describe women who have sexual relations with other women, she expanded its scope to include women whose emotional connectedness is centered on women regardless of sexual intimacy. Emotional bonding among women is at the center of Zami. So is the celebration of women’s power and figures of ancestral African mothers.
Lorde, self-identified as a black feminist lesbian poet warrior, started writing poetry when she was twelve and never stopped. Even her prose work is marked by a lyrical sensibility. In Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, lesbian unions are poetically presented: "her hips moved like surf upon the water’s edge" and "sweat-slippery dark bodies, sacred as the ocean at high tide." Even in The Cancer Journals (1980), we find a poetic quality. Written as an affirmation of survival, the book documents the experiences of living with cancer and dealing with pain.
Permeated by a strong social and political consciousness, Lorde’s work gives special attention to the dynamics of being a black woman. In "A Woman Speaks," from The Black Unicorn collection (1978), the poetic voice states: "I am woman and not white," while in another poem the same voice identifies being black with a unicorn: "The black unicorn is restless / the black unicorn is unrelenting / the black unicorn is not free."
"Sisters in Arms" from Our Dead Behind Us (1986) explores solidarity among black women, and the theme of the black woman artist, central to all of Lorde’s work, is presented in To the Poet Who Happens to Be Black and the Black Poet Who Happens to be a Woman" of Our Dead Behind Us. The affirmations of her identities as a black woman and a lesbian are paramount motifs in her work.
By inscribing her own experiences and stressing the responsibility of identifying herself as black and lesbian, Lorde avoids blanket generalizations and rigid essentialism. Most important, she bespeaks the specificity of the situation of black lesbians in the United States. By recognizing that her blackness and her lesbianism were not separate, she unified both struggles.
NBJC salutes a prolific writer, an out and proud lesbian and a woman who inspires all of us to greater heights.