Lorde described herself as “a black-lesbian feminist mother lover poet.”

Poet, essayist, and novelist Audre Lorde was born on February 18, 1934, in New York City. Her parents were immigrants from Grenada. Lorde received her B.A. from Hunter College and an M.L.S. from Columbia University. Her first volume of poems, The First Cities, was published in 1968. The First Cities was quickly followed with Cables to Rage (1970) and From a Land Where Other People Live (1972), which was nominated for a National Book Award. In 1974 she published New York Head Shot and Museum.

In 1976, W.W. Norton released her collection Coal and shortly thereafter published The Black Unicorn. Her other volumes include Chosen Poems Old and New (1982) and Our Dead Behind Us (1986). Although her work gained wide acclaim, she was also sharply criticized. In an interview in the journal Callaloo, Lorde responded to her critics: “My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds. . . . Jesse Helms’s objection to my work is not about obscenity . . .or even about sex. It is about revolution and change. . . . Helms knows that my writing is aimed at his destruction, and the destruction of every single thing he stands for.”

Lorde was diagnosed with cancer and chronicled her struggles in her first prose collection, The Cancer Journals, which won the Gay Caucus Book of the Year award for 1981. Her other prose volumes include Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982), Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984), and A Burst of Light (1988), which won a National Book Award.

In the 1980s, Lorde and writer Barbara Smith founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. She was also a founding member of Sisters in Support of Sisters in South Africa, an organization that worked to raise concerns about women under apartheid.

Audre Lorde was professor of English at John Jay College of criminal justice and Hunter College. She was the poet laureate of New York from 1991-1992. She died of breast cancer in 1992. The Collected Poems Of Audre Lorde was published in 1997.

Copyright © 1997 – 2007 by The Academy of American Poets

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