The Practice of Creativity

Remembering Audre Lorde

Posted on: February 18, 2013

audre_poster

Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934- November 17,1992)

Today is Audre Lorde’s birthday! Audre Lorde was an essayist, poet and activist who referred to herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,”.  Audre Lorde’s work has shaped and inspired two generations of writers, scholars, and activists. Lorde produced several volumes of poetry and created new directions in nonfiction with her untraditional memoir (Zami, A New Spelling of My Name), but she was not only a famous poet, she was also one of the most compelling black feminists of the past century. The topics she chose to write about broke open taboos on race, class, the role of ‘difference’ in the second wave women’s movement, breast cancer, sexuality, eroticism, marginality, and the necessity of theorizing about the interlocking nature of oppression. The body of her work has left a legacy for all those concerned with social justice.

I discovered her in college as a budding feminist thinker. I was deeply influenced by feminist literary theory and contemporary women authors. I found her work useful as she helped to redirect second wave feminist organizing to focus on the strength that is found in differences among women as opposed to believing in a mythical norm of the ‘universal woman’. At that time, I was finding my own voice at Bard College and involved in activism on campus (e.g. reproductive rights and fighting for ‘multicultural education’) and interested in feminist theorizing.

At the beginning of my senior year, I organized a group of friends to attend one of Audre Lorde’s final public appearances. Audre Lorde helped to a create conference called ‘Yo Soy Hermana/I Am Your Sister’. It was held in Boston. It called upon second wave (and budding third wave) feminists to come together to strategize, celebrate and develop new skills in feminist coalition building and action given the challenges young women and men faced globally (i.e. poverty, HIV/AIDS, repression of LGBT communities, sexual violence, etc.). My young female friends, all of us of diverse and multiracial backgrounds, found ourselves in a larger feminist and womanist community than we hadn’t dared imagine (or could imagine at Bard–a predominately white, private, liberal arts college). There were over 1000 activists in attendance from over 20 countries. The two days were packed with workshops, keynotes, plenaries, readings, and impromptu gatherings. During the conference, I felt that symbolically a baton was being passed from Lorde and other feminist elders to us in the audience. We were inheritors of the many benefits that Lorde and others had struggled for, yet, we still faced a world that was still fraught with inequality. What would we do with our knowledge and burgeoning power?

Her work inspired me to go on to graduate school. I felt a deep urgency to bring new voices and new ways of knowing into the academy, especially those from historically marginalized communities. I was eager to continue studying how feminist theory challenged typical assumptions about everyday social patterns that seemed ‘natural’. Everyone at Bard did the equivalent of an honors thesis, called the ‘Senior Project’. The tools and theory-building skills I acquired in my classes prepared me to write a senior project on the evolution of rape law reform of the 1970s and 1980s.  In my graduate school applications, I quoted Lorde, “In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”

Those words resonated deeply with me because I felt that coalition building and self-definition were the building blocks of feminist theory and could be applied to both research and activism. It’s a quote that still remains a guiding star in my life.

It’s only been in the last few years that I have come to appreciate the other gift that Lorde offered which is that she claimed everything about her—emotions, intellect, all forms of creative writing, activism and theory. She fought to live her life holistically and self-defined. As I have, over the past several years, been intentional about making more space for a scholarly *and* creative life, I find her example life affirming.

I hope you put Audre Lorde on your reading list this year either as a new reader or as someone rediscovering her work.

Recommended Reading:

Poetry: The Black Unicorn (1978)

Memoir: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982)

Essays: Sister Outsider  (1984)

Scholarship: I am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde (2009)

Photo Credit:http://www.nedrajohnson.com/audre.htm

This post originally appeared on She Writes

7 Responses to "Remembering Audre Lorde"

What a very nice tribute to her. 🙂

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Hi Kelly,
Thanks! It all poured out of me. It’s fun when writing happens in that way.

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Love the quote–define and empower! What a marvelous woman. So glad you found her. I’m hoping other young women become equally inspired. We have so much to lose if that baton isn’t passed forward.

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Hi Deborah,
Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I think young women now more than ever recognize that they must move gender equity issues forward–it won’t just happen by wishing it so.

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Thanks for reminding us about this wonderful woman, her legacy and how it impacted so many of us at a critical time. It’s powerful for me to now consider how her work impacted you and me and all that we are…..

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Dearest Jodi,
It always makes happy to know that you take the time to read (and respond!) to my musings. I traveled to Boston with Betty and Zulma and a few other folk. I remember us buying flowers and laying them in her lap–my first touch of feminist fandom! Yes, you and I have traveled many paths and women’s studies and feminism runs through all of them!

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Michele, I wish I had been first to post so that I could have said all of the above :). I won’t repeat the above ideas, which are stated far better than I could have anyway, but know that I concur.

Michele, I did not remember you went to Bard! You are so fortunate! What an amazing, inspiring place! The very windows, the chairs the students sit in are inspiring there. Those things uniquely propelled you to carry a special vision to the conference you describe, and toward describing Lord to us.

I have always appreciated Lord’s ideas and counted her among our important writers. However, the way you wrote about her in this essay truly brought to life what it means to have been an activist-writer.

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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