Audre Lorde

(1934–1992)

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Audre Lorde (1934–1992) was a poet, essayist, librarian, feminist, and equal rights activist. 

Audre Lorde was born Audrey Geraldine Lorde in New York City to immigrants from Grenada, an island nation in the Caribbean. Considered an intelligent and precocious student, she began writing poetry in high school. After a poem she wrote was rejected for a class assignment, she submitted it to Seventeen magazine and it became her first professional publication.

While taking classes at the National University of Mexico, Lorde accepted her identity as a lesbian and poet. Returning to the U.S., she socialized at downtown working-class lesbian bars while keeping her sexual preference a secret during classes at Hunter College. Lorde graduated from Hunter College in 1959 and attained a master’s degree in library science from Columbia University in 1961. She worked as a librarian throughout the 1960s.

Lorde had two children with her husband, Edward Rollins, a white gay man, before they divorced in 1970. She met her long-time partner, Frances Clayton, in 1972.

An issue of BLK Magazine featuring an image of Audre Lorde.

BLK Vol. 1 No. 5, April 1989

Cover of BLK magazine featuring an image of Audre Lorde.

2018.108.5

Gift of Alan Bell, © BLK Publishing Company, Inc.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Lorde published regularly in magazines and anthologies. During this period she also became active in the civil rights, antiwar, and women’s movements. Lorde published several books of poetry and books related to those subjects including Cables to Rage (1970), The Black Unicorn (1978), Sister Outsider (1984) and the fictionalized memoir she termed a “biomythography,” Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982).

Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977. While dealing with the prognosis and subsequent mastectomy, she felt isolated because there were no publications or coping models that related to being black and lesbian. She reflected on her condition in the book, The Cancer Journals (1980), which was awarded the American Library Association's Gay Caucus Book of the Year Award in 1981.

Lorde was diagnosed with liver cancer six years after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She died from cancer on November 17, 1992, at age 58.

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Top image: Photograph of Audre Lorde speaking at the Third World Gay Conference, ca. 1979. Photograph by Ron Simmons. Gift of Ron Simmons, © Ron Simmons. TA2019.38.1.1.1.11