Audre Lorde: Intersectional Feminist

Today’s article is about someone who has been relevant some time ago and it seems as if her work is having a revival nowadays: we are talking most certainly about Audre Lorde.📝

The “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” is amongst many writers who have become part of the voices in the Black Lives Matter movement as their words seem to strike a nerve. The words written some time ago are able to describe what others cannot. Her voice has shaped the world in many ways: her idea of coexistence of different identities can be seen as the first attempt of a intersectional approach of things, her detailed diary serves as a window into the experincs and emotions of a black lesbian woman. 📇🖌

If you want to know more about this leading figure in the fight against oppression, read the article below!

Audrey Geraldine Lorde | *18-02-1934 | † 17-11-1992 | USA | Poet, Writer, Feminist, Civil Rights Activist

Nearly thirty years after her death, the work of one of the most popular feminist writers, Audre Lorde, is highly popular and well-read. One of her most famous poems, called ‘Power’, seems to describe an almost similar situation and feeling that took hold of the world after George Floyd’s death. It is not surprising that Lorde’s work is leading a revival nowadays; her quotes are shared on social media and her words take a symbolic place in women’s marches and anti-racism protests worldwide, Audre Lorde reading clubs are popping up all over the place and her poetry and essay collections are being republished. Lorde can be seen as an early intersectional feminist as she always presented herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. She refuted the idea that these identities could not exist in the same space. For this reason, Lorde’s work is seen as a relief for black and feminist women; Lorde’s words ensured survival in a hostile environment.

Thanks to the fact that Audre Lorde has very accurately described her entire life in a diary, details are known about her experiences and emotions, even from her childhood. As a child, Lorde grew up in the city of Harlem with two sisters and her parents who were West Indian migrant workers. Lorde can be characterized as rebellious and she had difficulties conforming to the norm. An example of this is the fact that she refused to write her name as it was originally intended to be ‘Audrey’, because she felt her name looked more aesthetically pleasing without the last letter. In 1962, Lorde married a friend named Edward Rollins. Since Rollins was also gay, it felt safe for both of them to be with a close friend who would also like to have children. Her marriage to a man did not automatically imply that she could no longer be together with women, in contrast, Lorde had many relationships with different women at the same time. With this, she tried to go against the heteronormative script of monogamy. Lorde and Rollins had two children together. The couple eventually divorced because Lorde fell in love with Frances Clayton, a scientist she met at a poetry residence.

Only in 1973, Lorde revealed that she liked women instead of men, by reciting her latest poem. However, this was not to the liking of her publisher, so he adapted the poem, making Lorde feel betrayed. In the years before, Lorde experienced many more different ways of exclusion. Throughout the 1950’s, the white progressive movement was homophobic, and New York gay bars were racist. In the 1960’s Lorde felt out of place among the white feminists, but also among the black emancipation movement. Intersectionality was lacking: Lorde never felt completely herself because she always had to suppress part of her identity. The fact that Lorde was considered an outsider all her life was her greatest strength and her greatest weakness at the same time. In later life she became an icon for the fight against oppression, but she also suffered from depression and tantrums. These were, according to Lorde, the result of the frustration and aggression that accumulated in her as a result of racism. Since women, and especially black women, are judged more severely when they express their dissatisfaction, Lorde stated, “Women are powerful and dangerous”.

In the fall of 1976, Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer. The confrontation with her own mortality gave her work a sense of urgency; from now on she would no longer be silent about injustice, but she would speak up about it. Now that Lorde faced death, she most regretted her silence, because it had given her nothing at all. At a conference in Chicago, Lorde reads her “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” in which she famously speaks the words, “My silences would not have protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” Since the diagnosis, Lorde has started writing prose and essays in addition to poetry. In her stories she mainly referred to addressing and problematising power relations. Her core message concerned the fact that all forms of oppression could be traced back to one main idea: the unwillingness to recognize different identities and see them as something productive. 

In the late 1970s, Lorde seems to be at the peak of her career; she was a celebrated poet, a much-loved but feared international speaker and a figurehead in the fight for black lesbian women. In 1988, Lorde moved to the Virgin Island of St. Croix after her split from Clayton. Here she set up various social projects with the black activist and writer Gloria Joseph. In 1992, Lorde died after a 14-year battle with cancer. A year after her death, she was the first woman and the first African-American ever to be appointed city poet of New York.


Author: Daphne Janssen
Image: Elsa Dorfman

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