Born in New York to immigrant parents from the Caribbean, Audrey was the youngest of 3 sisters. She grew up listening to her mother telling stories about the West Indies and teaching them how to write. She learned how to read and talk at the age of 4.
Audre was a poet, novelist and essayist who used her writings to address what she perceive as unfairness of sexism, classism and racism. Sometimes, disappointments or rejection turn out to be better than you ever imagined.
She attended Hunter College High School, known for admitting only intellectually gifted students, Audre published her first poem in Seventeen magazine after her school’s literary journal rejected it for being unsuitable. When she was asked about her poetic beginnings, she said: “I used to speak in poetry. I would read poems, and I would memorize them. People would say, well what do you think, Audre. What happened to you yesterday? And I would recite a poem and somewhere in that poem would be a line or a feeling I would be sharing. In other words, I literally communicated through poetry. And when I couldn’t find the poems to express the things I was feeling, that’s what started me writing poetry, when I was twelve or thirteen.”
After her graduation from secondary school and losing her best friend Gennie, she left her parents’ home and became alienated from her family. In 1954, she attended Hunter College to study library science and graduated in 1959 earning a bachelor’s degree. While in school, Audre had to work multiple odd jobs to support herself. She worked as a social worker, X-ray technician, medical clerk, factory worker, ghost writer, and an arts and crafts supervisor. After her bachelor’s degree, she proceeded to Columbia University and earned her master’s degree in library science in 1961. She was a librarian in the New York public schools throughout the 1960s.
An internationally recognized activist and artist, Audre Lorde was the recipient of many honors and awards, including the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit, which honoured the onus of New York State poet for 1991-93. In appointing her New York State’s Poet Laureate, Governor Mario Cuomo remarked: “Her imagination is charged by a sharp sense of racial injustice and cruelty, of sexual prejudice…She cries out against it as the voice of indignant humanity.
Audre Lorde is the voice of the eloquent outsider who speaks in a language that can reach and touch people everywhere.”
Lorde’s early collections of poetry include:
The First Cities (1968), Cables to Rage (1970), and From a Land Where Other People Live (1972), which was nominated for a National Book Award.
Later works, including New York Head Shop and Museum (1974), Coal (1976), and The Black Unicorn (1978), included powerful poems of protest.
“I have a duty,” Lorde once said, “to speak the truth as I see it and to share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigating pain.”
Lorde was diagnosed with cancer and her 14-year battle is written down in her first prose collection, The Cancer Journals. It won the Gay Caucus Book of the Year award for 1981. Her other prose volumes include”:
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984), and A Burst of Light (1988), which won a National Book Award.
In the 1980s, Lorde and writer Barbara Smith founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. She was also a founding member of Sisters in Support of Sisters in South Africa, an organization that worked to raise concerns about women under apartheid. She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1981.
Lorde died of liver cancer at the age of 58. Her last volume of poetry, The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance, was published posthumously, in 1993.