Black feminist and poet Audre Lorde was born in New York City in 1934. Her father was from Barbados, and her mother was a Grenadian born on the island of Carriacou. The family lived in Harlem where Lorde, who was legally blind, was raised on stories her mother told about the West Indies. She learned to talk and read at the age of four, and her mother taught her to write at the same time. Lorde wrote her first poem when she was in the eighth grade. She had a hard time communicating during her childhood and learned to appreciate the power of poetry as a way to express herself. She started writing poetry in earnest at 12 with a group of others at her school considered “outcasts.” After attending Catholic school, she attended Hunter College High School, a secondary school for gifted students, and graduated in 1951. While in school, she participated in workshops sponsored by the Harlem Writers Guild. In 1954, Lorde spent a year at the National University of Mexico, then graduated from Hunter College in 1959, becoming active in the gay culture of Greenwich Village. She went on to earn an MA in library science at Columbia University in 1961, working as a public librarian in Mount Vernon, New York, during that time. She became a writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi in 1968 and was involved with civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements during the 1960s. She published her first book of poetry in 1968; her third book was nominated for an American Book Award in 1973, but it was “Coal,” a book released in 1976 that solidified her status as an influence in the Black Arts Movement. She co-founded the Kitchen Table Women of Color Press in 1980 and was associated with the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press in 1977. She taught in Lehman College’s education department from 1969 to 1970 and in the English department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice from 1970 to 1981, fighting for the creation of a Black studies department at the school during that time. She taught at Hunter College in 1981 and was a co-founder of the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, which helped women who survived sexual and domestic abuse in the same year. She also aided in the creation of Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa to help Black women affected by apartheid. Her book about her experience with breast cancer, “The Cancer Journals,” won an American Book Award in 1989.
Lorde died of cancer in 1992, and her impact on Black feminism continues to be discussed today.
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