Audre Lorde: Black, Feminist, Lesbian, Mother, Poet

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Audre Lorde: Black, Feminist, Lesbian, Mother, Poet

Warrior Poet: A Biography of Anidre Lorde By Alexis De Veaux (W. W. Norton, $29.95)

For one of her prose books, poet Audre Lorde coined the term "biomythography." The book's title, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), itself bristled with the challenge of an original self-definition. "Zami" was Caribbean French patois for "woman friends" - possibly lesbians. Biomythography was to be a new literary genre, empowered by feminism, that exploded male-centered definitions of history, mythology, autobiography and fiction. Throughout her career, Lorde pursued new words to counter fixed definitions. And she was uniquely positioned to do so.

Alexis De Veaux's Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde charts the life of a gifted American writer who traversed American racial, sexual and social identities as few have. Lorde, author of poetry volumes such as The Black Unicorn (1978) and Coal (1976), as well as important feminist criticism came into herself in the 1960s and early 1970s, a time of breaking down conservative social conventions, of marginalized identities declaring their right to sovereignty.

But Lorde was a revolutionary within the revolution. While other activists and artists who considered themselves radicals had their hands full promoting Black power or the feminist revolution, Lorde promoted Black feminist power. When Black feminism surged, Lorde emphasized the need for Black lesbian feminism. She described herself as a "black, feminist, lesbian, mother, poet warrior."

She could also have added to the list first-generation immigrant and cancer patient. In The Cancer Journals, published in 1980, Lorde addressed the traumatic experience of having a mastectomy. Breast cancer was the illness that finally killed Lorde in 1992, at age 58, after a 14-year battle.

The youngest of three sisters, Lorde was given a choice to sink, or swim in a sea of identity confusion. Her parents, immigrants from the Caribbean island of Grenada, never quite adapted to life in the Unites States. Her mother was deeply suspicious both of Whites and darker skinned Black people. Problematic aspects of Lorde's personality "had come highly recommended by a mother who taught her never to trust White people or anyone darker than herself."

Little about Lorde was "typical." She expressed an early interest in the arts: she wrote poetry as a child and supported herself first as a librarian, then as a teacher. Before "coming out" as a lesbian, Lorde, at 27, married a White lawyer, Ed Rollins, who was also gay. Both partners were aware of their sexual orientations prior to the 1962 union, but believed they could sustain a marriage based upon mutual respect. …