Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde
Photo by Elsa Dorfman (CC BY 2.5)

Audre Lorde, born February 18, 1934 in New York City, New York, was an American feminist poet.  The youngest of three daughters, Lorde was nearsighted to the point of legal blindness. She also didn’t speak till she was five, having first been inspired to speak by a short story that was read to her by a local librarian. Growing up in Harlem during the Great Depression, she often listened to her mother’s stories of the West Indies. Her parents intended to return to the West Indies, Grenada, but the Depression prevented it.

Lorde attended Hunter College from 1951 to 1959, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, later earning a Master’s degree in Library Science from Columbia University in 1961.  Lorde worked as a librarian at Mount Vernon Public Library in Mount Vernon, New York until 1963. While working in Mount Vernon, she married attorney Edwin Ashley Rollins. The couple had two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan and subsequently divorced in 1970.

During her lifetime, Audre Lorde published twelve books. A number of her poems were also published in anthologies. Lorde described herself as “a black feminist lesbian mother poet.”  She claimed that poetry was her first language, saying that when she was young she often responded to questions in the form of poetry to avoid reprimands from adults about occasional stuttering.

Her poetry embodied themes of emotions including love, fear, racial and sexual oppression, survival, and urban struggle. She was a prolific writer who explored the feelings and suffering of marginalized groups.  She also focused on her experiences as a woman, a lesbian, an African American, and a mother.  Her poetry reflected all of these experiences as well as events unfolding over time. Her writing described the necessity for social action again racism and sexism.

In 1968, Lorde was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. In the spring of that same year, she became poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College, a historically black institution in Mississippi.  It was at Tougaloo that she met her companion, Frances Clayton.  Audre Lorde died November 17, 1992 in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, of liver cancer. She was 58.