See also Barnes, Djuna; Woolf, Virginia.
A self-identified “black lesbian feminist warrior poet, ” the African American writer and activist Audre Lorde boldly explored her multiple identities as female, black, and gay in her writing. She used the term “sister-outsider” to describe her experience as a member of multiple, different, and often incompatible social groups. Lorde was accomplished in a variety of genres, including poetry, autobiography, and the political/personal essay. All of her writing combines a poet's lyricism with a strong sense of political consciousness. As she put it, “The question of social protest and art is inseparable for me.”
Born in New York City on February 18, 1934, Lorde grew up in Harlem, the youngest of three daughters of West Indian parents from Grenada and Barbados. She received a BA degree from Hunter College and a master's degree in Library Science from Columbia University. After working as a librarian for the City University of New York for several years, she taught creative writing at Tougaloo College in Mississippi and at John Jay College and Hunter College in New York. In 1962, Lorde married lawyer Edwon Ashley Rollins, and they had a son and a daughter together. Following their divorce a decade later, Lorde began having long-term relationships with women.
Lorde published her first book of poetry, The First Cities, in 1968. Her second volume of poetry, Cables to Rage (1970), contains her first explicit representation of eroticism between women. Following the publication of two more volumes of poetry, Lorde finally gained a wider audience when the mainstream publishing house W. W. Norton brought out Coal (1976), a compilation that included poems from her first two, hard-to-find books and featured jacket copy by another Norton author, the white lesbian feminist poet Adrienne Rich. Lorde's finest volume of poetry is widely regarded: The Black Unicorn (1978), which explores her identity as a black woman and a lesbian, and draws on African themes and images. In 1980, she published The Cancer Journals, a courageous account of her struggle with the disease.
Her best-known prose work is Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), a fictionalized chronicle of Lorde's coming of age as a lesbian and a poet. Lorde referred to Zami as “biomythography” rather than autobiography, emphasizing both the mythic and communal elements of her personal story. Lorde's essays and speeches on a variety of political and personal themes are collected in Sister Out-