Audre Lorde Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Audrey Geraldine Lorde was born on February 18, 1934, in New York City, the third child of Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde and Frederick Byron Lorde. Her parents had immigrated to the United States from Grenada ten years previously. After the births of his three daughters, Lorde’s father attended real estate school and began to manage small rooming houses in Harlem. Lorde later remembered how consistently her parents shared responsibility for the family.

Lorde was an inarticulate child who did not begin to speak until she was approximately five years old. At that time, she was charmed out of a tantrum in a library by a librarian who read several storybooks to her. The young Audrey then began to interact with the world, learning to read, then to speak, and then to write. As she was growing up, Lorde communicated through poetry, responding to questions or comments with poems she had memorized. When she was twelve or thirteen, she began to write her own poetry to express feelings that were not reflected in what she had been reading. Initially, Lorde did not write down her poems; rather, she preferred to memorize them.

Even as a child, Lorde exhibited independence in her approach to life. For example, as she recounts in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), when she was first learning to print her name, Lorde disliked the tail of the “y” in “Audrey.” Instead, she liked the evenness of “Audre Lorde,” a lifelong preference. Part of her unique view of the world may stem from the fact that Lorde was vision-impaired. When she was three years old, she recalled that “the dazzling world of strange lights and fascinating shapes which I inhabited resolved itself in mundane definitions, and I learned another nature of things as seen through eyeglasses.”

Lorde progressed through grade school...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Lorde is noted for her poems and essays expressing rage at the injustices of modern American society. Her work is distinctly political and her subjects topical. Lorde sought to encourage awareness of and to provide an example for other “outsiders.” Nevertheless, she remained a caring individual whose love poems are moving and poignant. In the words of teacher and writer Jerome Brooks, the world is reflected in Lorde’s poetry “mainly through the conflicts and confrontation of her coming to terms with herself or with very private pain.”


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Audre Lorde began writing poems at an early age, as a child of West Indian heritage growing up in New York City’s Harlem. Her early work progressed from personal consciousness to encompass a radical critique of her society. Lorde was graduated from Hunter College in New York, then went on to study for a year at the National University of Mexico. She obtained a library science degree from Columbia University in 1961.

Lorde married attorney Edwin Ashley Rollins in 1962, had two children with him, and was divorced in 1970. From 1970 onward, there was a lesbian focus in her life as well as in her work. In Zami, Lorde examines the powerful erotic journey of a young black woman who comes to terms with her lesbian sexual orientation. Powerful, deeply erotic scenes based in New York City’s gay-girl milieu of the 1950’s reflect Lorde’s efforts to grapple with her own personal, sexual, and racial identity.

A teacher of writing at New York City area colleges, Lorde was keenly aware of racism—a condition she experienced as a child in New York City. This awareness was reflected in a radicalism in her work, including Coal and Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Audre Geraldine Lorde’s parents emigrated from Grenada to New York City in 1924. Lorde, the youngest of three girls, was born in 1934. She recounted many of her childhood memories in Zami, identifying particular incidents that had an influence or effect on her developing sexuality and her later work as a poet. She attended the University of Mexico (1954-1955) and received a B.A. from Hunter College (1959) and an M.L.S. from Columbia University (1961). In 1962, she was married to Edwin Rollins, with whom she had two children before they were divorced in 1970.

Prior to 1968, when she gained public recognition for her poetry, Lorde supported herself through a variety of jobs, including low-paying factory work. She also served as a librarian in several institutions. After her first publication, The First Cities, Lorde worked primarily within American colleges and free presses. She was an instructor at City College of New York (CUNY; 1968-1970), an instructor and then lecturer at Lehman College (1969-1971), and a professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (1972-1981). From 1981 to 1987, she was a professor of English at Hunter College at CUNY and became a Thomas Hunter Professor for one year (1987-1988). She also served as poetry editor of the magazine Chrysalis and was a contributing editor of the journal Black Scholar.

In the early 1980’s, she helped start Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, a multicultural effort publishing Asian American and Latina as well as African American women writers. In the late 1980’s, Lorde became increasingly concerned over the plight of black women in South Africa under apartheid, creating Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa and remaining an active voice on behalf of these women throughout the remainder of her life. She also served on the board of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. With the companion of her last years, the writer and black feminist scholar Gloria I. Joseph, she made a home on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Shortly before her death in 1992 she completed her tenth book of poems, The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance.