Thursday, October 29, 2009
Who's That Queer
Audre Lorde was born in New York City to Caribbean immigrants Frederick Byron Lorde and Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde, who settled in Harlem. Nearsighted to the point of being legally blind, and the youngest of three daughters, Lorde grew up hearing her mother's stories about the West Indies. She learned to talk while she learned to read, at the age of four, and her mother taught her to write at around the same time. She wrote her first poem when she was in eighth grade.
After graduating from Hunter College High School, Lorde attended Hunter College from 1954 to 1959 and graduated with a bachelors degree.
In 1954, she spent a pivotal year as a student at the National University of Mexico, a period she described as a time of affirmation and renewal: she confirmed her identity on personal and artistic levels as a lesbian and poet. On her return to New York, Lorde went to college, worked as a librarian, continued writing and became an active participant in the gay culture of Greenwich Village. Lorde furthered her education at Columbia University, earning a master's degree in library science in 1961.
Lorde's poetry was published very regularly during the 1960s — in Langston Hughes's 1962 New Negro Poets, USA; in several foreign anthologies; and in black literary magazines. During this time, she was politically active in civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements. Her first volume of poetry, The First Cities (1968), was published by the Poet's Press and edited by Diane di Prima, a former classmate and friend from Hunter College High School. Dudley Randall, a poet and critic, asserted in his review of the book that Lorde "does not wave a black flag, but her blackness is there, implicit, in the bone."
Her second volume, Cables to Rage (1970), which was mainly written during her tenure at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, addresses themes of love, betrayal, childbirth and the complexities of raising children. It is particularly noteworthy for the poem "Martha", in which Lorde poetically confirms her homosexuality: "[W]e shall love each other here if ever at all."
Later books continued her political aims in lesbian and gay rights, and feminism. In 1980, together with Barbara Smith and Cherrie Moraga, she co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher for women of coloor. Lorde was State Poet of New York from 1991 to 1992.
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