Audre Lorde: A Burst of Life

Becca Anderson (author of The Book of Awesome Women Writers) has great admiration for this black poet who never hid life’s serious truths.

Poet activist Audre Lorde is finally receiving the recognition she has so long deserved. A black lesbian poet who never hid her truth, Audre started writing poetry seriously in grade school. Born in the winter of 1934, her parents were West Indian immigrants who escaped to New York City from Grenada in 1924, just in time for The Great Depression. Audre grew up feeling different from her two older sisters, feeling like she was really an only child or “an only planet, or some isolated world in a hostile, or at best, unfriendly firmament.”

Dazzlingly bright, Audre read voraciously. After a stint at the University of Mexico where the atmosphere of racial tolerance really opened her eyes to the racism in the United States, she began attending Hunter College and earned a degree in library science from Columbia. Married and with two small children, she worked for several

New York libraries for eight years. Divorcing, she again moved toward her true passion—creative writing, both prose and poetry. In 1968, she started teaching creative writing at City University of New York. She also spent a year as poet in residence at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, and went on to teach at many prestigious schools throughout America, where her reputation as an extraordinarily gifted poet grew.

The rare combination of gifted writer and teacher, Audre Lorde challenged her students. According to biographer Joanne S. Richmond in Handbook of American Women’s History, Lorde urged her writing students to “Claim every aspect of themselves and encourage(d) them to discover the power of a spirited wholeness, knowing that in silence there is no growth, in suppression there is no personal satisfaction.”

Her prose includes The Cancer Journals, disclosing her battle with breast cancer, from which she ultimately died. Audre encountered a feminist’s nightmare in her treatment, refusing to wear the prosthetic breast her doctor tried to force upon her. In 1982, Ami: a New Spelling of My Name was Lorde’s foray into creating a new genre, what she called “biomythology” and her literary outing of her own lesbianism. In Ami, she digs deep into archetype, myth, and women’s mysteries through the story of her mother’s birthplace, the West Indian island of Carriacou. Lorde reveled in the lore of African goddesses and matriarchal tales, her lusty lovemaking with other black women, and the intrinsic egalitarianism of nature. A staunch feminist and political activist, in her work she also pointed to the patriarchal “I” centeredness of Judeo-Christian traditions and confronted the hypocrisy of her times, angrily decrying sexism and bigotry in such poems as “Cables to Rage” and “The Black Unicorn.”

On many occasions, Lorde read her poetry with fellow black poets Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, and Jayne Cortez. She began, as many poets do, in coffeehouses
and humble church basements. But soon she was filling theaters and winning awards, including the American Book Award for A Burst of Light, a nomination in poetry for the 1974 National Book Award, and the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit, for which she became New York’s Poet Laureate shortly before losing her life to cancer in 1992.

Audre Lorde is a poet’s poet. Scratch the surface of many of today’s best writers’ influences and her name will come up repeatedly. Jewelle Gomez cites Audre Lorde as a major influence on her writing life and on the lives of many others in the African American creative community.

In an article for Essence magazine, Gomez recognizes Lorde’s work as “a mandate to move through… victimization and create independent standards that will help us live full and righteous lives…She was a figure all women could use as a grounding when they fought for recognition of their worth.”

“Poetry is the conflict in the lives we lead. It is the most subversive because it is in the business of encouraging change.”

— Audre Lorde

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


The Book of awesome women writers

Medieval Mystics, Pioneering Poets, Fierce Feminists and First Ladies of Literature (Feminist Book, Gift for Women, Gift for Writers)

This one-of-a-kind tome takes a tour with Sylvia Beach and other booksellers as well as librarians, editors, writers, bibliophiles, and celebrated book clubs. Join women’s studies scholar Anders as she takes you on a ribald ride through the pages of history. Chapter titles include “Prolific Pens” (including Joyce Carol Oates, author of over 100 books), “Mystics, Memoirists and Madwomen”, “Salons and Neosalons”, “Ink in Their Veins” (literary dynasties), and the titillating “Banned, Blacklisted, and Arrested.”

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