Woman Making History #45: Audre Lorde

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audre lordeAudre Lorde was born to a West Indian family in New York City in 1934. She was the youngest of five children and legally blind from birth. She attended Hunter College, graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Library Science in 1959.

In 1954, Lorde spent a year abroad at the National University of Mexico. While in Mexico, she came to her own identity both as a poet and as a lesbian. Upon her return, she became active in the gay community in Greenwich Village. She also attended Columbia University, getting a Masters in Library Science in 1961. Despite her revelation about her sexuality, Lorde married in 1962 and had two children. She and her husband divorced in 1970.

During the 1960s, Lorde's poetry was published regularly in anthologies and black magazines. Her first independant volume, The First Cities, was published in 1968. Also in 1968, Lorde took a NEA-funded poet-in-residence position at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. There, she met Frances Clayton, who was to be her partner for the rest of her life.

In 1970, Lorde published her second volume of poetry, Cables to Rage, which was followed by From a Land Where Other People Live in 1972. In 1974, her focused switched from love to politics with New York Head Shot and Museum.

Lorde continued to publish poetry throughout the 1970s. When she was diagnosed with cancer in 1980, she switched to prose, writing The Cancer Journals. She followed this with more poetry, including her most famous work, The Black Unicorn (1978), then with more prose, including Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982). She and writer Barbara Smith founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. Lorde also co-founded Sisters in Support of Sisters in South Africa, an organization working to raise awareness of the state of women under apartheid.

Along with all of her writing, Lorde spoke and taught. She was a professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice from 1979 to 1981 and at Hunter College from 1981 to 1987. In 1991-92, she was also the New York poet laureate. She died of breast cancer in 1992.

The Academy of American Poets
New York State Writers Institute


I'm so happy you're doing this project. I had an experience today that I want to share with you:

I've been working on a unit of women's history for high school kids. It has required research that I'm not unfamiliar with, but putting it together in a comprehensive way that will excite young people is a challenge.

Anyway, I've been chipping away at it. I finally finished all of my notes and started reading over them to do the actual activities/lessons. Then, I suddenly realized I had pages upon pages that represented the lives of women: women who fought, struggled, and died for their sisters (and brothers, in some cases). And, I was just overcome by it. I lost it and started crying.

While history has always affected me, and has been my academic and professional work for a while now, it took writing history in a new format (history education) to literally move me to tears. I wonder if your experience writing for the web has impacted you in any kind of different way?

And if the answer is no, feel free to label me a sap and call it a day. ;-)

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