Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
Contributing Editor: Claudia Tate
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Students need to be taught to empathize with the racial, sexual, and class characteristics of the persona inscribed in Lorde's works. Such empathy will enable them to understand the basis of Lorde's value formation.
Students immediately respond to Lorde's courage to confront a problem, no matter what its difficulty, and to her deliberate inscription of the anguish that problem has caused her. Both the confrontation and the acknowledged pain serve as her vehicle for resolving the problem.
It is difficult to secure the entire corpus of her published work. Most libraries have only those works published after 1982. Many of those published prior to this date are out of print.
To address this issue, I have made special orders for texts that are still in print and asked the library to place them on reserve. In other cases, I have selected specific works from these early texts and photocopied them for class use.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Lorde's work focuses on lyricizing large historical and social issues in the voice of a black woman. This vantage point provides stringent social commentary on white male, middle-class, heterosexual privilege inherent in the dominant culture, on the one hand, and on the disadvantage accorded to those who diverge from this so-called standard. In addition, students should be aware that there have historically been racial and class biases between white and black feminists concerning issues that centralize racial equality, like enfranchisement, work, and sexuality.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Students studying Lorde's poetry should familiarize themselves with the aesthetic and rhetorical demands of the lyrical mode. In addition, they should be prepared for the high degree of intimacy inscribed in Lorde's work.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
Although Lorde is known primarily as a poet, she also wrote a substantial amount of prose. Her most prominent prose includes The Cancer Journals (1980), the record of her struggle with breast cancer; Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), an autobiography; and Sister Outsider (1984), a collection of essays and speeches. Students should be encouraged to explore Lorde's prose in order to see how genre mediates the expression of her most salient themes. Comparisons can also be drawn with the work of Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, and Ntozake Shange in order to stress the intimacy of the woman-centered problematic that informs and structures Lorde's work.
Over the last decade Lorde has attracted considerable scholarly interest. See the headnote for a listing of recent criticism. Also see the selections in Homemaking: Women Writers and the Politics and Poetics of Home, eds. Catherine Wiley and Fiona R. Barnes; Critical Essays: Gay and Lesbian Writers of Color, ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson; New Lesbian Criticism: Literary and Cultural Readings, ed. Sally Munt; Some of Us Are Brave, eds. Barbara Smith et. al.; Sturdy Black Bridges, eds. Gloria Hull et. al.; Color, Sex, and Poetry, edited by Gloria Hull; and Wild Women in the Whirlwind, edited by Joanne M. Braxton.