Audre Lorde

Black Lesbian Feminist Poet, Essayist and Educator

Audre Lorde lecturing, words on blackboard are Women are powerful and dangerous
Audre Lorde lecturing at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, Florida, 1983. Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Audre Lorde Facts

Known for: poetry, activism. While some of her poetry is known for being romantic or erotic, she’s better known for her more political and angry poetry, especially around racial and sexual oppression. She identified through most of her career as a black lesbian feminist.

Occupation: writer, poet, educator
Dates: February 18, 1934 – November 17, 1992
Also known as: Audre Geraldine Lorde, Gamba Adisa (adopted name, meaning Warrior – She Who Makes Her Meaning Known)

Background, Family:

Mother: Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde
Father: Frederic Byron

Husband: Edwin Ashley Rollins (married March 31, 1962, divorced 1970; attorney)

  • Children: Elizabeth, Jonathan

Partner: Frances Clayton ( - 1989)
Partner: Gloria Joseph (1989 – 1992)

Education:

  • Catholic schools, Hunter High School (New York City)
  • Hunter College, B.A., 1960.  Library Science.
  • National University of Mexico, 1954.
  • Columbia University, M.L.S., 1962. Library Science.

Religion: Quaker

Organizations: Harlem Writers Guild, American Association of University Professors, Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa

Audre Lorde Biography:

Audre Lorde’s parents were from the West Indies: her father from Barbados and her mother from Grenada.  Lorde grew up in New York City, and began writing poetry in her teen years. The first publication to publish one of her poems was Seventeen magazine. She traveled and worked for several years after graduating from high school, then came back to New York and studied at Hunter College and Columbia University.

She worked in Mount Vernon, New York, after graduating from Columbia University, moving on to become a librarian in New York City.  Then she began an educational career, first as a lecturer (City College, New York City; Herbert H. Lehman College, Bronx), then associate professor (John Jay College of Criminal Justice), then finally professor at Hunter College, 1987 – 1992.

  She served as visiting professor and lecturer around the United States and the world.

She was aware early of her bisexuality, but by her own description confused about her sexual identity, given the times. Lorde married an attorney, Edwin Rollins, and had two children before they divorced in 1970. Her later partners were women.

She published her first book of poems in 1968. Her second one, published in 1970, includes explicit references to love and an erotic relationship between two women.  Her later work became more political, dealing with racism, sexism, homophobia and poverty. She also wrote about violence in other countries, including Central America and South Africa. One of her more popular collections was Coal, published in 1976.

She characterized her poems as expressing her “duty to speak the truth as I see it” including “not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigating pain.”  She celebrated differences among people.

When Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer, she wrote about her feelings and experience in journals which were published as The Cancer Journals in 1980. Two years later she published a novel, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, which she described as “biomythography” and which reflects her own life.

She founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in 1980s with Barbara Smith. She also founded an organization to support black women in South Africa during the time of apartheid.

In 1984, Lorde was diagnosed with liver cancer. She chose to ignore the advice of American physicians, and instead sought experimental treatment in Europe. She also moved to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but continued to travel to New York and elsewhere to lecture, publish and engage in activism. After Hurricane Hugo left St. Croix with devastating damage, she used her fame in mainland cities to raise funds for relief.

Audre Lorde won many awards for her writing, and was named New York State Poet Laureate in 1992.

Audre Lorde died of liver cancer in 1992 in St. Croix.

Books by Audre Lorde

  • The First Cities. Introduction by Diane di Prima. Poets Press. 1968.
  • Cables to Rage. Broadside Press. 1970.
  • From a Land Where Other People Live. Broadside Press. 1973.
  • The New York Head Shop and Museum. Broadside Press. 1974.
  • Coal. Norton. 1976.
  • Between Our Selves. Eidolon. 1976.
  • The Black Unicorn. Norton. 1978.
  • The Cancer Journals. Spinsters Ink. 1980.
  • Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Crossing Press. 1982.
  • Chosen Poems Old and New. Norton. 1982.
  • Sister Outsider. Crossing Press. 1984.
  • Our Dead behind Us. Norton. 1986.
  • A Burst of Light. Firebrand Books. 1988.
  • Need: A Chorale for Black Women Voices. Women of Color Press. 1990.
  • Undersong: Chosen Poems Old and New. Norton. 1992.
  • The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance. Norton. 1993.
  • The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Norton. 1997.