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“I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself – a Black woman warrior poet doing my work – come to ask you, are you doing yours?” (Lorde, p 40)
Audre Lorde asks this question, in numerous ways, through her writing and her life—and let me report that I will spend a life answering her. Black feminist/womanist writers have had a huge influence on my life and identity—as a writer, thinker, and as a person who is able to find the well of courage, fashion a cup and dip in. What a joy to find this intimate volume, I Am Your Sister, and also hear from her contemporaries—writers such as bell hooks, Alice Walker, Johnnetta B. Cole—sharing stories about Lorde. This collection stands as a reminder: not only that oppression is shared if ever it occurs, and that none among us is exempt from the possibility of oppressing others; but that learning and practicing love is vital. I am grateful to Audre Lorde, and to the editors. Each of us can find courage, and remember what to do when we find it.
I Am Your Sister contains previously published and unpublished work. The editors arrange Lorde’s works in a compelling format, framed by thoughtful essays from those who knew her. The first of Lorde’s essays in this collection, quite prophetically, is “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” Indeed, some of Sister Outsider, and A Burst of Light are here, but also, essays on poetry, self-definition, language, teaching and identity. All of these writings are archived in the Women’s Research and Resource Center at Spelman College—fittingly, a historically black women’s college at which Audre Lorde first felt a cold reception on her 1978 visit (due to her lesbianism), and then a homecoming on her 1988 visit. The editor’s comments highlight the varied reception Lorde’s work received during her lifetime. Johnnetta B. Cole states “Far more today than when she wrote her poems, prose, and essays that now constitute her collected works, Audre Lorde has gained iconic status. Her name is now inextricably linked with a stance against the multiple forms of oppression.” (p 234)
These pages build an image of Lorde as one who feels, thinks and contributes to a world in which love and community must prevail. Clearly, how Lorde lived was as important as what she wrote. bell hooks ably reminds us that in “the constant demand Lorde makes in her work that silences be broken, that we claim our power to make ourselves visible, we have both a theory that enables us to understand what hems us in and a theory that conceptualizes our power to set ourselves and our words free.” (p 247)
For the reader who doesn’t abide such theorizing, the pleasure of Lorde’s prose is here too. “My Mother’s Mortar” is a stunning exemplar of personal essay: private, political, historical, geographical and perfectly specific. Above all, this writing is pleasurable and the reader feels brought into dialogue rather than merely challenged by ideas—though the challenge is there. I wondered if Lorde’s voice would sound dated, but mostly, I felt the lack of her contemporary voice. How would she have engaged our current discussions on issues such gay families or sadomasochism? Though her contributions are locked in time, it’s clear she wasn’t. I felt grief at the loss of her. This collection offers a unique breadth that made me feel an intimacy with this writer who has changed my outlook, my feelings, more than once over the years. What a gift.
Anyone inspired by Lorde should own this volume and use it as a reminder to reject the kind of labeling that would divide us, blind us to our ability to work as allies.
“That power lives inside of you. It is yours, you own it, and you will carry it out of this room. And whether you use it or whether you waste it, you are responsible for it. Good luck to you all.” (Lorde, p 218)
I AM YOUR SISTER:
Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde
Edited by Rudolph P. Byrd, Johnnetta Betch Cole and Beverly Guy Sheftall
Oxford University Press
Hardcover: $27.95, 280 p.