AUDRE GERALDINE LORDE was born on February 18, 1934, in New York City, to Frederic Byron and Linda Belmar Lorde. She attended public schools in Manhattan and, at an early age, began to write poetry. In 1951 she enrolled at Hunter College, working at a number of odd jobs to support herself and graduating in 1959. In 1954 she spent a year studying at the National University of Mexico.
Shortly after graduation Lorde entered a library science program at Columbia University, receiving the M.L.S. degree in 1961. During the next seven years Lorde worked at Mount Vemon Public Library and the Town School Library in New York City. In her spare time she wrote poetry and in 1968 her first collection, The First Cities, appeared. This volume received little attention but was praised for its originality of language. In that same year Lorde received a National Endowment for the Arts grant, resigned her position as librarian, and became poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Tougaloo presented Lorde with her first reprieve from urban life. The city, however, is a significant influence in Lorde's poems, being generally a place of confinement and deterioration.
Lorde's second book of poetry, Cables to Rage (1970), was published in England but distributed in America by the Broadside Press. The poems, like those in The First Cities, largely focus around human relationships. With From a Land Where Other People Live (1973; nominated for a National Book Award), the evolution of Lorde's concerns became evident. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Lorde's themes progressed from personal awareness toward a larger societal vision. Her vision of the world somewhat resembled her description of the city: it is a place of oppression, large and uncaring, walled in by racism and injustice. In The New York Head Shop and Museum (1974), Lorde's politics became more explicit. She also adopted much of the militant black rhetoric of the radical black poets of the 1960s.
Lorde, however, came to be known primarily as a lesbian feminist poet. She had become involved in the Greenwich Village "gay-girl" milieu as