Black Women Who Slayed History: Audre Lorde
This Black History Month, we’re highlighting the black woman who helped make our world what it is today. Today, we honor poet Audre Lorde.
Audre Lorde was born in 1934, right smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression. She grew up in New York City, where she lived practically her entire life. Her interest in poetry started at a very young age, and her first writings were during her teenage years. In fact, her first poem was published by Seventeen magazine.
In high school, Audre studied at the Hunter College High School and was enrolled in their program for gifted and talented kids. After graduating, she then spent a year in New Mexico studying which she called a revolutionary period of self-discovery in which she realized she was a lesbian and feminist.
After that year, she returned to NYC and began studying full time at Hunter College. She worked as a librarian in the city to make ends meet. She was one of the most prominent members of the LGBT movement happening in Greenwich village and graduated from Columbia University with a Master’s degree in library science 1961.
During much of the 60s, she was a librarian at the Mount Vernon. She also married a lawyer and had two children with him. They later divorced.
Audre’s first volume of poetry, “First Cities,” was published in 1968. A lot in her life changed that year. She left her job as head librarian in NYC to teach a writing workshop in Mississippi. After witnessing the strains caused by racial inequality in the “South,” she was inspired to write her second volume of poetry called “Cables to Rage” which was published in 1970.
During her career, Audre and her work received many awards, including the National Book Award in 1973 for “From a Land Where Other People Live.” The collection addressed issues of social injustice as well as personal challenges that transpired as a result.
She was also very politically active during the Civil Rights movement, and used her platform to take up those issues and frame them in a new way. Her most popular work, a poem titled “Coal” that was published in 1976 was really what helped her to the level of acclaim she now holds.
In the last years of her life, Audre struggled with cancer for nearly 14 years. She didn’t let this get her down, however. Instead, she wrote about it and published a collection of essays called “A Burst of Light” which deal with the illness. She also published “The Cancer Journals” that gave an inside and raw look at the struggles she faced in treatment of the cancer.
She spent her last few years living in St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and died there in 1992.
The legacy of Audre Lorde remains as one of the most influential black voices in poetry, feminism and discourse on sexuality and gender.