Audre Lorde Quotes

Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934 - November 17, 1992)

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 once described herself as a "black-lesbian feminist mother lover poet." Born to parents from the West Indies, Audre Lorde grew up in New York City. She wrote and occasionally published poetry and was active in the 1960s movements for civil rights, feminism, and against the Vietnam War. She was a critic of what she saw as feminism's blindness to racial differences and fear of lesbians being involved.

Audre Lorde attended Hunter College in New York from 1951 through 1959, working at odd jobs while also writing poetry. She earned a master's degree in library science in 1961 and worked as a librarian through 1968, when her first volume of poetry was published.

During the 1960s she married Edward Ashley Rollins, had two children, and divorced in 1970. Meeting Frances Clayton in Mississippi, they were together until 1989 when Gloria Joseph became her partner. Audre Lorde, continuing her outspokeness especially through her poetry, struggled with breast cancer for 14 years, and died in 1992.

Selected Audre Lorde Quotations

• I am a Black Feminist. I mean I recognize that my power as well as my primary oppressions come as a result of my blackness as well as my womaness, and therefore my struggles on both of these fronts are inseparable.

• For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.

They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support.

• Without community, there is no liberation.

• When I dare to be powerful -- to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

• I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.

• Who I am is what fulfills me and what fulfills the vision I have of a world.

• Even the smallest victory is never to be taken for granted. Each victory must be applauded.

• Revolution is not a onetime event.

• I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

• Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.

• We are powerful because we have survived.

• If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.

• For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

• Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.

• Our poems formulate the implications of ourselves, that we feel within and dare make real (or bring action into accordance with), our fear, our hopes, our most cherished terrors.

• The energies I gain from my work help me neutralize those implanted forces of negativity and self-destructiveness that is White America's way of making sure I keep whatever is powerful and creative within me unavailable, ineffective, and non-threatening.

• Attend me, hold me in your muscular flowering arms, protect me from throwing any part of myself away.

• There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.

• There's always someone asking you to underline one piece of yourself -- whether it's Black, woman, mother, dyke, teacher, etc. -- because that's the piece that they need to key in to.

They want to dismiss everything else.

• What woman here is so enamored of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman's face? What woman's terms of oppression have become precious and necessary to her as a ticket into the fold of the righteous, away from the cold winds of self-scrutiny?

• We welcome all women who can meet us, face to face, beyond objectification and beyond guilt.

• Our visions begin with our desires.

• Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.

• As we come to know, accept, and explore our feelings, they will become sanctuaries and fortresses and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas -- the house of difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action.

•  For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power I rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world. Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women.

• The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.

• The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.

• Every woman I have ever known has made a lasting impression on my soul.

• Every woman I have ever loved has left her print upon me, where I loved some invaluable piece of myself apart from me -- so different that I had to stretch and grow in order to recognize her. And in that growing, we came to separation, that place where work begins.

• It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

• Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism.

It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. 

• In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.

• To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society.

• You have to learn to love yourself before you can love me or accept my loving. Know we are worthy of touch before we can reach out for each other. Not cover that sense of worthlessness with "I don't want you" or "it doesn't matter" or "white folks feel, Black folks do."

• If our history has taught us anything, it is that action for change directed against the external conditions of our oppressions is not enough.

• The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.

• Each time you love, love as deeply as if it were forever / Only, nothing is eternal.

• I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't.

• When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.

• I realize that if I wait until I am no longer afraid to act, write, speak, be, I'll be sending messages on a Ouija board, cryptic complaints from the other side.

• But the question is a matter of the survival and the teaching. That's what our work comes down to. No matter where we key into it, it's the same work, just different pieces of ourselves doing it.

• There's always someone asking you to underline one piece of yourself -- whether it's Black, woman, mother, dyke, teacher, etc. -- because that's the piece that they need to key in to. They want to dismiss everything else.

• I am who I am, doing what I came to do, acting upon you like a drug or chisel or remind you of your me-ness as I discover you in myself.

• For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.

• The love expressed between women is particular and powerful because we have had to love in order to live; love has been our survival.

• But the true feminist deals out of a lesbian consciousness whether or not she ever sleeps with women.

• Part of the lesbian consciousness is an absolute recognition of the erotic within our lives and, taking that a step further, dealing with the erotic not only in sexual terms.

• We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way.

• The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.

• Art is not living. It is the use of living.

• Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat.

• If our history has taught us anything, it is that action for change directed against the external conditions of our oppressions is not enough.

• My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I'm going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity.

• When we create out of our experiences, as feminists of color, women of color, we have to develop those structures that will present and circulate our culture.

• We cannot continue to evade each other on the deepest levels because we fear each other's angers, nor continue to believe that respect means never looking directly nor with openness into another black woman's eyes.

• We are African women and we know, in our blood's telling, the tenderness with which our foremothers held each other.

• My Black woman's anger is a molten pond at the core of me, my most fiercely guarded secret. Your silence will not protect you!

• Black women are programmed to define ourselves within this male attention and to compete with each other for it rather than to recognize and move upon our common interests.

• Black writers, of whatever quality, who step outside the pale of what black writers are supposed to write about, or who black writers are supposed to be, are condemned to silences in black literary circles that are as total and as destructive as any imposed by racism.

• I remember how being young and black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell.

• But, on the other hand, I get bored with racism too and recognize that there are still many things to be said about a Black person and a White person loving each other in a racist society.

• Black women sharing close ties with each other, politically or emotionally, are not the enemies of Black men.

• In discussions around the hiring and firing of Black faculty at universities, the charge is frequently heard that Black women are more easily hired than are Black men.

• Black women are programmed to define ourselves within this male attention and to compete with each other for it rather than to recognize and move upon our common interests.

• As I have said elsewhere, it is not the destiny of black America to repeat white America's mistakes. But we will, if we mistake the trappings of success in a sick society for the signs of a meaningful life. If black men continue to do so, defining 'femininity' in its archaic European terms, this augurs ill for our survival as a people, let alone our survival as individuals. Freedom and future for blacks do not mean absorbing the dominant white male disease.

• As black people, we cannot begin our dialogue by denying the oppressive nature of male privilege. And if black males choose to assume that privilege, for whatever reason, raping, brutalizing, and killing women, then we cannot ignore black male oppression. One oppression does not justify another.

• Hopefully, we can learn from the 60s that we cannot afford to do our enemies work by destroying each other.

• There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.

About These Quotes

Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.