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Audre Lorde

Audrey Geraldine Lorde (aka Audre Lorde)
February 18, 1934 – November 17, 1992
Notable: Writer
Nationality: American


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Audrey Geraldine Lorde was the youngest of Linda Belmar and Frederic Lorde’s three daughters. Born in New York City and raised in Manhattan, both of Lorde’s parents were from the Caribbean island of Grenada. Lorde experienced developmental disabilities as a child which included being declared legally blind due to the severity of her nearsightedness. She also did not begin speaking until the age of four or five. Yet, Lorde also showed some independent thought as a child deciding on her own to drop the “y” from her first name.

Instead of public school, Lorde’s parents enrolled her in a Catholic school. She distinguished herself as a very intelligent child and developed a passion for poetry. At a very young age, Lorde began to read and memorize poems. In some situations, Lorde would recite lines from a poem that she felt captured her thoughts or feelings. As she got older and these ideas became more complex, Lorde began to write her own poems to better express herself.

While a student at Hunter High School, an English teacher rejected one of Lorde’s poems. She in turn submitted the poem to Seventeen magazine where it was published. The poem thus became her first published work.

Lorde went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts at Hunter College and a Master of Library Science at Columbia University. During her college years, Lorde supported herself by working odd jobs in New York and Connecticut. Upon completion of her degrees, Lorde found work as a librarian in New York City and Mount Vernon.

As a college student, Lorde had spent a year studying abroad in Cuernavaca, Mexico at the National University of Mexico. The experience would prove personally significant. It was during that time that Lorde came to terms with her sexual orientation as a lesbian and her identity as a poet.

At that point, Lorde began living openly as a lesbian. Yet, in 1962, she married Edwin Rollins, a gay White man. Given the time, the marriage was likely to some degree an arrangement between the two to provide themselves with cover for their sexual preferences. They had two children, a boy, and a girl, but both continued to see other people of the same sex. The couple divorced in 1970 and two years later Lorde met Frances Clayton who became her life partner.

Lorde continued writing poetry throughout college and while working as a librarian. Her poems began to be regularly published during the 1960s. But the last two years of the decade were pivotal. 1968 saw the publication of The First Cities her first volume of poems. She became the writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College and was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

During the 1960s, Lorde had been an active participant in various protest movements. As had been the case when she was a child, Lorde’s poems continued to be an outlet for communicating her thoughts and feelings. Her collections of poems that were released in the 1970s dove increasingly deeper into providing political and social commentary.

Lorde stood out for her perspective on these topics from an unapologetically Black and openly queer point of view. Lorde delved deeply into the facets of her identity as a woman and took inspiration from a trip to Benin to create 1978’s critically acclaimed The Black Unicorn. Her 1984 release included the essay “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House”, one of the first works to discuss the intersectional issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977 and underwent a mastectomy. Facing a serious and potentially life-threatening illness, Lorde attempted to seek out resources to help her cope. Finding none that were relevant to her as a Black lesbian woman, Lorde decided to do something about it. She began to write about her perspective and experience hoping to provide other lesbians and women of color with some of the comfort that she’d been unable to find. The Cancer Journals came to be regarded as a classic in the genre of illness narratives.

Lorde continued to write and publish throughout the 1980s. She co-founded a publishing company focused on the works of Black feminists. Lorde also helped to establish an organization aimed at giving voice to the needs and concerns of women living under apartheid in South Africa.

About six years after her breast cancer diagnosis, Lorde learned that the cancer had spread to her liver. For her second bout with cancer, Lorde opted for alternative treatments but once again wrote about her experience. She settled on the island of Saint Croix with her new life partner. The couple became engaged with local activism and established charities. Audre Lorde lived on St. Croix until she died from liver cancer on November 17, 1992 at the age of 58.


  1. Aliano, Kelly. 2022. “Life Story: Audre Lorde (1934–1992).” Women & the American Story. New York Historical Society Museum & Library. December 2, 2022.
  2. “Audre Lorde.” 2020. National Museum of African American History and Culture. May 29, 2020.
  3. “Audre Lorde.” 2022. Poets.Org. Academy of American Poets. April 6, 2022.
  4. “Audre Lorde.” n.d. Poetry Foundation. Accessed July 2, 2023.
  5. Editors. 2021. “Audre Lorde.” Biography.Com. A&E Networks Television. April 27, 2021.
  6. Brandman, Mariana. 2021. “Audre Lorde.” National Women’s History Museum. June 2021.
  7. Eaton, Amber. 2023. “Audre Lorde (1934-1992).” Blackpast.Org. June 5, 2023.

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