American writer Audre Lorde was a poet, feminist, womanist and civil rights activist. She was born in New York City in 1934 to Caribbean immigrants. Lorde’s writing career began early in her teenage years: “When I couldn’t find the poems to express the things I was feeling, that’s what started me writing poetry,” she stated of her beginnings. Lorde attended the National University of Mexico and Hunter College and earned a master’s degree in library science from Columbia University.
Lorde published her first volume of poetry, “First Cities,” in 1968. The work’s success led to Lorde leaving her job as a librarian and teaching a poetry workshop at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, which allowed her a front-row seat to the immense racial tension in the South at the time.
Her third book of poetry, “From a Land Where Other People Live,” published in 1973, was nominated for a National Book Award. The work addressed global issues as well as the navigation of personal identity. Lorde described her poetry as “coming from the intersection of me and my worlds.”
“The Black Unicorn,” written in 1988 and widely considered to be her greatest work, was an exploration of Lorde’s African heritage. Throughout her life, Lorde contributed to social activism. In the late 1980s, Lorde and Barbara Smith founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, an organization “dedicated to furthering the writings of black feminists.” She was also one of the founders of another group tasked with increasing awareness of the struggle of African women under apartheid, called the Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa. Her passion for social justice appeared in works like “Power,” a poem about the police shooting of a 10-year-old black child.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Lorde published a prose work entitled “The Cancer Journals.” She famously described herself as “black, lesbian, feminist, warrior, poet, mother.” The warrior poet fought cancer for over a decade. Her last few years were spent in the U.S. Virgin Islands where she took on the African name Gamba Adisa, translated as “she who makes her meaning clear.” Lorde lost her battle with cancer on November 17, 1992, and the world lost a woman with “a duty 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.”
Caroline Fritz is a third-year student majoring in English with minors in French and linguistics. ✉ CF853302@wcupa.edu.