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National

Black History Month: Audre Lorde

Written by Staff

“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.” — Audre Lorde

Audre Geraldine Lorde was born Feb. 18, 1934, in New York City, and went on to become a leading African-American poet and essayist who gave voice to issues of race, gender, and sexuality. She attended Hunter College, working to support herself through school. After graduating in 1959, she went on to get a master’s degree in library science from Columbia University in 1961.

For most of the 1960s, Lorde worked as a librarian in Mount Vernon, New York, and in New York City. She married attorney Edwin Rollins in 1962. The couple had two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan, and later divorced.

Lorde gave voice to her sexuality in the poem, “Martha”, published in her second volume of poetry, Cables to Rage (1970).

Martha

Martha this is a catalog of days,
passing before you looked again.
Someday you will browse and order them
at will, or in your necessities.

I have taken a house at the Jersey shore
this summer. It is not my house.
Today the lightning bugs came.

On the first day you were dead.
With each breath the skin of your face moved
falling in like crumpled muslin.
We scraped together the smashed image of flesh
preparing a memory. No words.
No words.

On the eighth day
you startled the doctors
speaking from your deathplace
to reassure us that you were trying.

Martha these are replacement days
should you ever need them
given for those you once demanded and never found.
May this trip be rewarding;
no one can fault you again Martha
for answering necessity too well
and the gods who honor hard work
will keep this second coming
free from that lack of choice
which hindered your first journey
to this Tarot house.

They said
no hope no dreaming
accept this case of flesh as evidence
of life without fire

Lorde battled breast cancer for more than a decade and spent her last few years living in the U.S. Virgin Islands, passing away in 1992. Around this time, she took an African name, Gamba Adisa, meaning “she who makes her meaning clear.”

Over her long career, Lorde received numerous accolades, including an American Book Award for A Burst of Light in 1989. She is remembered today for being a great warrior poet who valiantly fought many personal and political battles with her words.

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