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Conversations with Audre Lorde
ISBN: 1578066433

Joan Wylie Hall, Editor
Review by: Barbara Bamberger Scott


“I wish I could just write and have a world where I didn’t have to be an activist.” Thus spake Audre Lorde (1934- 1992), Harlem native, self-described “Black lesbian, feminist, poet, warrior, mother” and nemesis of Jesse Helms, whom she called a “real threat.” “The visions that move me…are diametrically opposed to whatever vision moves Jesse Helms.”

These interviews are a collection across time and space – from 1975 to 1989, from Amherst to Germany. The subject matter is so diverse as to be embarrassingly rich, both autobiographical and philosophical, covering both the craft of writing and the travails of a woman who had an interracial straight marriage and an interracial lesbian partnership and was praised and condemned for both. She was likewise lauded and rejected for refusing to wear a prosthesis after breast cancer, making it a political issue like so much else in her checkerboard life. She designed clothes, she made speeches, and she taught creative writing in Mississippi.

Lorde’s conversation is both human and highly informed. She speaks without barriers, being a person who had few. One has the feeling that this dynamic woman would have been fun to know, and hard to get along with. She’s larger than her background. She stands out in every situation she’s cast into, such as making a speech at the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington. At one point she crows vibrantly, “I never thought I’d live to be forty and I’m forty-five, I feel like, hey I really did it!”

Lorde’s life was lived in the divide – between black and white, straight and gay, obviously, but also the divide between black male writers and their female counterpoints, between black gay women and their racist sisters in the movement, between gay men and lesbians, between single moms and the rest of the world. She was always in the middle.

It made her strong.

Her parents were an influence, her father himself aspiring to be a writer. But he was strict, even cruel in his stubbornness and he refused to share his life with his daughters. Because of this refusal to communicate, there were times when the children went to bed without supper, believing it be because of some unknown sin, not realizing that lack of money was the problem. “I learned a lot from my parents,” Lorde acknowledges, “Not the least of which was how to survive them both.” Writing, for Lorde, was a way of expressing the inexpressible from earliest childhood.

These interviews are an invaluable resource. Lorde was an invaluable resource. Her vital anger is as important a part of any struggle as is the determination she always demonstrated to build bridges. Both were the logical outcome of being an outsider. Lack of acceptance was her constant goad, and from it, poems were born.

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