Audre Lorde honed and nurtured her voice to reach many others. She spoke and expressed herself fearlessly, showing the way for those to follow. It was not easy to tackle the subjects that she did. It is the commitment of writers and thinkers that has wrought change through generations. Her birth, her station, and gender wouldn’t hold her back from expressing her truth.
“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider : Essays and Speeches
Origins Of The Quote
These powerful words are by Audre Lorde, in “Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches”. It was published in 1984. This intense collection of essays and speeches, has her take on the mammoths of sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class. She advocates social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is as sharp, incisive, and unflinching as herself. There is a lyrical quality to her writing and how she strings her words.
Largely reflecting on her struggles, ultimately offering messages of hope. The landmark writings are, in Lorde’s own words, a call to “never close our eyes to the terror, to the chaos which is Black which is creative which is female which is dark which is rejected which is messy which is… ” Lorde’s argument is intensified with the words of many others before her who advocated self-expression. Those who encouraged the interpretation and translation of silence.
It was the ‘oppressive silence’ and its most potent antidote, that the great Caribbean-American poet Audre Lorde pushed. She worked with all the avenues available to her – an essayist, a lesbian icon, an anti-war and human rights activist. It is a heady mix of achievements. It is a compendium for this author with an incredibly rich journey.
Lorde was confident in her project as she had lived through the truth. Her words resound like a sound bell, true, ringing a long time after it has been struck.
The Person Behind The Words
Lorde was born in New York to Caribbean immigrants. Her mother Linda was of mixed descent and her father, from Barbados. Lorde’s mother Linda had a fairer skin and had Creole ancestry. Linda was painfully short-sighted to the point of being labelled blind, but an avid reader. She taught the little Audre to read and write by the time she was four. And when in eighth grade – she was already writing her own poetry.
Originally ‘Audrey’, chose to drop the ‘y’ from her name to preserve the visual symmetry of her name– Audre Lorde. It was not a close-knit happy family, there were inherent complications within her family. A voracious reader she developed an affinity to poetry. The meter and succinct construct of poems helped her express herself. Ones that she read or wrote herself. Words were her gymnasium.
Lorde attended Hunter College High School, a secondary school for intellectually gifted students. She trudged through several parochial institutions to get to that point. Graduating in 1951 from Hunter, Lorde published her first poem in Seventeen magazine. It was difficult for her to align with the conservatism and traditionalism that always surrounded her. Although talented, she never seemed to ‘fit’.
Lorde enrolled at the National University of Mexico in 1954, when she finally came into her own. She embraced her sexuality, her writing, and her purpose. Audre read at Columbia University and attained a master’s in Library Science. In 1884 she was a visiting professor in West Berlin at the Free University of Berlin. This phase would bring her even closer to her dreams. She was invited by FU lecturer Dagmar Schultz. They had met at the UN “World Women’s Conference” in Copenhagen in 1980.
In Germany, Lorde became an influential member of the nascent Afro-German movement. A group of black women activists along with Audre – in Berlin, coined the term “Afro-German” in 1984. This was the birth of the submerged Black movement in Germany.
The Gaps Within The Self
A key area of Lorde’s dialogue was focusing on the difference between individuals, and conflicting differences within the individual. This understanding and the expression thereof, was critical to her thought. Describing herself, Audre believed herself to be a part of a “continuum of women” and a “concert of voices” within herself. The conception of her many layers of selfhood is replicated in the multi-genres of her work.
The release of Coal in 1976 established Lorde as an influential voice in the Black Arts Movement. Norton publishing introduced her to a wider audience. The anthology contains poems from The First Cities and Cables to Rage. They unite many of the themes Lorde would become known for throughout her career: her rage at racial injustice, her celebration of her black identity, and her call for an intersectional consideration of women’s experiences. She followed the successful Coal, with Between Our Selves (also in 1976) and Hanging Fire (1978).
Some Final Thoughts
Lorde’s poetry became more open and personal as she grew older and became more confident in her sexuality. She had been married, a mother, and then divorced she finally met her partner and love. She accomplished a rare feat – of integrating various roles with grace and elan.
In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Lorde states, “Poetry is the way we help give a name to the nameless so it can be thought… As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings and the honest exploration of them become sanctuaries and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring ideas.”
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