A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde (1934 - 1992) dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Lorde was born in New York City to West Indian immigrant parents. She attended Catholic schools before graduating from Hunter High School and published her first poem in Seventeen magazine while still a student there. Of her poetic beginnings Lorde commented in Black Women Writers: “I used to speak in poetry. I would read poems, and I would memorize them. People would say, well what do you think, Audre. What happened to you yesterday? And I would recite a poem and somewhere in that poem would be a line or a feeling I would be sharing. In other words, I literally communicated through poetry. And when I couldn’t find the poems to express the things I was feeling, that’s what started me writing poetry, and that was when I was twelve or thirteen.”
Lorde earned her BA from Hunter College and MLS from Columbia University. She was a librarian in the New York public schools throughout the 1960s. She had two children with her husband, Edwin Rollins, a white, gay man, before they divorced in 1970. In 1972, Lorde met her long-time partner, Frances Clayton. She also began teaching as poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College. Her experiences with teaching and pedagogy—as well as her place as a Black, queer woman in white academia—went on to inform her life and work. Indeed, Lorde’s contributions to feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory intertwine her personal experiences with broader political aims. Lorde articulated early on the intersections of race, class, and gender in canonical essays such as “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House.”
“I have a duty,” Lorde once stated, “to speak the truth as I see it and to share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigating pain.”
( ~ poetryfoundation.org)
From the House of Yemanjá
by Audre Lorde
My mother had two faces and a frying pot
where she cooked up her daughters
before she fixed our dinner.
My mother had two faces
and a broken pot
where she hid out a perfect daughter
who was not me
I am the sun and moon and forever hungry
for her eyes.
I bear two women upon my back
one dark and rich and hidden
in the ivory hungers of the other
pale as a witch
yet steady and familiar
brings me bread and terror
in my sleep
her breasts are huge exciting anchors
in the midnight storm.
All this has been
in my mother's bed
time has no sense
I have no brothers
and my sisters are cruel.
Mother I need
mother I need
mother I need your blackness now
as the august earth needs rain.
the sun and moon and forever hungry
the sharpened edge
where day and night shall meet
and not be
Audre Lorde, “From the House of Yemanjá” from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Copyright © 1997 by Audre Lorde. Reprinted with the permission of Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., www.nortonpoets.com.
Source: The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1997)