Audre Lorde: Breaking All the Rules
Audre Lorde dedicated her life and her written work to addressing injustice. Born in New York City to West Indian immigrant parents, she published her first poem in Seventeen magazine while in high school. 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 was a New York City public school librarian throughout the 1960s. She had two children with her husband, Edward Rollins, a white, gay man, before divorcing and meeting her future partner, Frances Clayton. In the 70s she also began teaching as poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College. Her experiences with teaching and established theory as a black gay woman in the white academic world became a major influence on her work. Lorde’s most famous essay shed light on the intersections of race, class, and gender in “The Master’s Tools Will Never 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.” She addressed issues we continue to battle to this day. Her poem “Power” was born from her reaction upon hearing the police officer involved in the shooting of a ten-year-old black child had been acquitted. She said: “A kind of fury rose up in me; the sky turned red. I felt so sick. I felt as if I would drive this car into a wall, into the next person I saw. So I pulled over. I took out my journal just to air some of my fury, to get it out of my fingertips. Those expressed feelings are that poem.”
Lorde was poet laureate of New York from 1991-1992 and received a National Endowment for the Arts award. Her creative and political bravery inspires artists, activists, and readers to this day.