Audre Lorde called herself a ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,’ and it’s easy to see why.
She dedicated her life and her (not inconsiderable amount of) creative skill to confronting the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Her poetry, and ‘indeed all of her writing,’ according to Joan Martin in Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, ‘rings with passion, sincerity, perception, and depth of feeling.’
Lorde garnered widespread critical acclaim for the way she fought against the categorisation prevalent in modern society, giving her readers the ways to react to the prejudice they faced in their daily lives. Dealing with these topics made her a target of those opposed to her radical agenda, but she continued, undaunted, to express her individuality, refusing to be silenced.
As she told interviewer Charles H. Rowell in Callaloo:
“My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds… [White, arch-conservative senator] Jesse Helms’s objection to my work is not about obscenity…or even about sex. It is about revolution and change.”
Fighting a battle with cancer that she documented in her highly acclaimed Cancer Journals (1980), Lorde died of the illness in 1992.
As a poet, she is best known for technical mastery and emotional expression, as well as her poems that express anger and outrage at civil and social injustices she observed throughout her life. Her poems and prose largely deal with issues related to civil rights, feminism, and the exploration of black female identity.
Lorde said about non-intersectional feminism in the United States:
“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.
In Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, she posits several of the theories that are behind current, ‘third wave’ feminism. Casting aside the works of people like Germaine Greer (who, in her book The Female Eunuch, blames homosexuality on ‘the inability of the person to adapt to his given sex role’) Lorde gives rise to a more inclusive way of thought, that allows for the complicated nature of humanity. Instead of just talking about the importance of ‘free love’, Lorde’s feminism elevates all women, regardless of sex, race, sexuality or class.