“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. 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.”
Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet. These are the words Audre Lorde chose when describing herself, and they paint a broad picture of the incredible life that she led. A prolific writer, Audre was also a professor, an activist, a womanist, a feminist, a librarian, and a weaver of words so emotional and timeless that her work is as relevant to our times now as they were when she wrote them.
Born in New York in 1934, Audre showed a love of words and beauty at a young age. In fact, she dropped the “y” from the end of her first time so that her first and last name had a more perfect symmetry, both ending in an “e.” When she was still in high school she published her first poem in Seventeen magazine after her high school deemed it “too inappropriate” for publication in their student journal. Audre went on to graduate from Columbia, ultimately earning her Master’s Degree in library science.
Audre had a strained relationship with her parents, particularly her mother. Her mother’s family valued light skin and “passing,” and Audre had the dark skin of her father. She described her mother as cold and distant, and suspicious of anyone with dark skin. These feelings are reflected in her poem “From the House of Yemanja”:
My mother had two faces and a frying potwhere she cooked up her daughtersinto girlsbefore she fixed our dinner.My mother had two facesand a broken potwhere she hid out a perfect daughterwho was not meI am the sun and moon and forever hungryfor her eyes.I bear two women upon my backone dark and rich and hiddenin the ivory hungers of the othermotherpale as a witchyet steady and familiarbrings me bread and terrorin my sleepher breasts are huge exciting anchorsin the midnight storm.All this has beenbeforein my mother’s bedtime has no senseI have no brothersand my sisters are cruel.Mother I needmother I needmother I need your blackness nowas the august earth needs rain.I amthe sun and moon and forever hungrythe sharpened edgewhere day and night shall meetand not beone.
Audre lost her life in 1992, but she leaves a legacy of activism and art behind. The Audre Lorde Project describes it’s mission as such:
The Audre Lorde Project is a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color center for community organizing, focusing on the New York City area. Through mobilization, education and capacity-building, we work for community wellness and progressive social and economic justice. Committed to struggling across differences, we seek to responsibly reflect, represent and serve our various communities.