Lorde, Audre

Coal

I
is the total black, being spoken
from the earth’s inside. There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame
how sound comes into a words, coloured
by who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open like a diamond
on glass windows
singing out within the crash of sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
in a perforated book – buy and sign and tear apart -
and come whatever will all chances
the stub remains
an ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
breeding like adders. Other know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
bedevil me

Love is word, another kind of open.
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth’s inside
Now take my word for jewel in the open light.

Biography

Picture of Audre Lorde

Image by K. Kendall/CC Licensed

“Liberation is not the private province of any one particular group” – Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was born in 1934 in New York to parents of West Indian heritage. She passed away in 1992 from breast cancer. Her battle with the disease, which was chronicled in works like The Cancer Journals (1980), was just one of many struggles she encountered. Audre Lorde was a black woman and a lesbian in a world dominated by white heterosexual males. She fought for justice on each of these fronts. Her writings protest against the appropriation of black American culture by an indifferent white population, the perpetuation of sex discrimination, and the neglect of the movement for gay rights. Her poetry, however, is not entirely political in content. It is extremely romantic in nature and is described by Joan Martin as ringing with, “passion, sincerity, perception, and depth of feeling.”

In addition to being a writer and activist, Lorde was an educator. She held numerous teaching positions and toured the world as a lecturer. She formed coalitions between Afro-German and Afro-Dutch women, founded a sisterhood in South Africa, began Women of Color Press, and established the St. Croix Women’s Coalition. She was living in St .Croix at the time of her death. Perhaps the most fitting summary of her life and work can be found in a Boston Globe tribute by Renee Graham: “She took her frailties and misfortunes, her strengths and passions, and forged them into something searing, sometimes startling, always stirring verse. Her words pranced with cadence, full of their own rhythms, all punctuated resolve and spirit. With words spun into light, she could weep like Billie Holiday, chuckle like Dizzy Gillespie or bark bad like John Coltrane.”

Awards/Honors

National Endowment for the Arts Grants, 1968 and 1981
Creative Artists Public Service Grants, 1972 and 1976
National Book Award Nominee for Poetry, 1974 for From a Land Where Other People Live
Broadside Poets Award, Detroit, 1975
Woman of the Year, Staten Island Community College, 1975
Borough of Manhattan President’s Award for Literary Excellence, 1987
Walt Whitman Citation of Merit, Poet Laureate of New York, 1991

Is Audre Lorde a Postcolonial Writer?

Does Audre Lorde belong on a page of postcolonial writers? She was, after all, born in New York City. To raise this question is to ask again, what does the term “postcolonial” mean? Debates have raged on the issue of terminology (see the special issue of Social Text and volume 26 1 & 2 of Ariel for articles on this subject). While birthplace or other factors can be the determinant, another indication of postcolonial status would be the purpose and mentality of the writing. If the postcolonial writer is one who poses a challenge to the dominant Eurocentric model, Audre Lorde fits the definition. She grew up in a household of West Indian immigrants, probably her most conventional connection to the commonly thought of postcolonial model. She shares the experience of seeing black culture endangered by the donminant white one, LGBT rights suppressed, and women relegated to second class citizens.

Selected Works

Poetry

  • Lorde, Audre. Between Our Selves. Point Reyes, CA: Eidolon, 1976.
  • —. The Black Unicorn. New York: Norton, 1978.
  • —. Chosen Poems Old and New. New York: Norton, 1982.
  • —. Cables to Rage. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1970.
  • —. Coal. New York: Norton, 1976.
  • —. The First Cities. New York: Poets Press, 1968.
  • —. From a Land Where Other People Live. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1973.
  • —. The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance. New York: Norton, 1993.
  • —. The New York Head Shop and Museum. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1974.
  • —. Our Dead Behind Us. New York: Norton, 1986.
  • —. Undersong: Chosen Poems Old and New. New York: Norton, 1992.

Other Writings

  • Lorde, Audre. Burst of Light. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 1988.
  • —. The Cancer Journals. San Francisco: Spinster Ink, 1980.
  • —. I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities. Latham, NY: Women of Color Press, 1985.
  • —. Need: A Chorale for Black Women Voices. Latham, NY: Women of Color Press, 1990.
  • —. Sister Outsider. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984.
  • —. The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic As Power. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1978.
  • —. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1982.

Author: Ryan Becker
Last edited: July 2012

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