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Celebrating UK Black History Month: Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American, lesbian activist, writer, poet, teacher and visionary. She began writing poetry at the age of twelve and came out as a lesbian while in college (about 15 years before the Stonewall Riots) and was very active in gay culture in Greenwich Village.

Lorde described herself as a ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’ who committed her life and her creative talent to fighting injustices of sexism, racism and homophobia.

As an author, she wrote about the intersectionality between sexual orientation, gender identity, and race, about raising your voice against oppression, and about radical self-visibility for any population facing discrimination or marginalisation.

As a lecturer in 1970, Lorde engaged diverse student bodies on the interlocking identities of class, race, and gender, with history and culture. At the same year, in her second book of poetry, Cable to Rage she had revealed her lesbianism. 

“It was hard enough to be Black, to be Black and female, to be Black, female, and gay. To be Black, female, gay, and out of the closet in a white environment, even to the extent of dancing in the Bagatelle, was considered by many Black lesbians to be simply suicidal.” - Audre Lorde 1982

While living in Staten Island Lorde was a professor of English at John Jay College, held the prestigious post of Thomas Hunter Chair of Literature at Hunter College, and spoke at the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. In 1980, she was among a group of women who co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which published work by and about women of color.

Her book I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities (1986) was one of its publications.

“I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.” - Audre Lorde, 1985

Of her numerous honours, Lorde was named Staten Island Community College’s “Woman of the Year” in 1975, given the Borough of Manhattan President’s Award for Literary Excellence in 1987, and named Poet Laureate of New York State in 1991.

The Audre Lorde Project, founded in 1994, is a “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color centre for community organizing” that builds on Lorde’s legacy of speaking out for oppressed and marginalised groups. In 2019, an “Audre Lorde Way” street sign was installed at the corner of St. Paul’s Avenue and Victory Boulevard, near Lorde’s former home.

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