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'A Mighty Voice': Black feminist intellectual Audre Lorde's essay book is reissued

by Sandra Guzman /
Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde lectures students at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Lorde was a Master Artist in Residence at the Central Florida arts center in 1983.Robert Alexander / Getty Images

The late Black Lesbian and feminist poet Audre Lorde is a contemporary social media darling.

Her quotes are always trending — "Your silence will not protect you," and "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." Her famous dictum about radical self-care, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare," has become a rallying cry for social justice activists as well as for wellness enthusiasts like Goop's Gwyneth Paltrow and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

Yet, despite Lorde's quotable prowess and Internet popularity, and despite the fact that she remains one of the world's most important literary and intellectual voices, many of her exceptional writings tackling racism, sexism, and homophobia were out of print. But no longer.

Fans of her quotes are now able to dig deeper as one of Lorde's most important works of prose, "A Burst of Light and Other Essays," has been reissued.

"To have young people reread Sister Audre, not just to quote or a line or two, but to reread her work is very exciting," said poet and civil rights activist Sonia Sanchez, who was tapped to write the foreword to the new edition published by Dover Publications' new imprint, Ixia Press. "Yes, sister Audre was inspirational but she was also an intellectual genius."

Sanchez opened the introduction of the reissue with "Paul Robeson", a poem by Pulitzer Prize-winner Gwendolyn Brooks. The first few lines of the poem affirm one of Lordes' lifelong teachings, "that we are each other's harvests, that we are each other's business."

"Sister Audre reminded us that the only way out of the madness of racism, homophobia, and sexism is to come together," explained Sanchez. "She gave us the guide and showed us how it's possible to come together as women, and as a people. We have to work together because that powerful coming together is the only way to change this country."

Sanchez opened the introduction of the reissue with "Paul Robeson", a poem by Pulitzer Prize-winner Gwendolyn Brooks. The first few lines of the poem affirm one of Lordes' lifelong teachings, "that we are each other's harvests, that we are each other's business."

"Sister Audre was on time. She was able to connect the dots of history to what we are living today." - Sonia Sanchez

"You have to understand this was 1950's, 1960's, 1970's when many of our Lesbian and gay writers and poets lived in the closet because of raging homophobia," said Sanchez. "Sister Audre was unapologetically Black, Lesbian, and feminist and for that she was ostracized, she suffered tremendously."

In one of the most powerful essays in the collection, "I am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities," Lorde tackles homophobia in the Black community.

"It is not easy for me to speak here with you as a Black Lesbian feminist, recognizing that some of the ways in which I identify myself make it difficult for you to hear me…I have heard it said — usually behind my back — that Black Lesbians are not normal. But what is normal in this deranged society by which we are trapped? "Homophobia and heterosexism means you allow yourselves to be robbed of the sisterhood and strength of Black Lesbian women."

Later in the essay she declares, "Black Lesbians are not apolitical. We have been part of every single freedom struggle in this country. I don't want to be tolerated, nor misnamed. I want to be recognized. I am a Black Lesbian. And I am your sister."

Before the word 'intersectionality' was coined and ubiquitous in modern day civil rights circles, Lorde, who was born in Harlem to Caribbean parents from Barbados and Carriacou, was living and writing about how fundamental it was to "join our differences and articulate our particular strengths in the service of our mutual survival."

  Image: Audre Lorde Book Cover

In her essay, "Apartheid U.S.A." Lorde exhorts the African-American community to reach beyond continents and embrace the struggles of Black people everywhere:

"As African-Americans we must learn to use our power, to establish the connections instantly between consistent patterns of slaughter of Black children and youth in the roads of Sebokeng and Soweto in the name of law and order in Johannesburg. Our survivals are not separate, even though the terms under which we struggle differ. African-Americans are bound to the Black struggle in South Africa by politics as well as blood."

In the same essay, Lorde also warned about the rise of the alt-right protected by law enforcement.

"In California, U.S.A., the Aryan Brotherhood, the Posse Commitatus, and other white and racist and anti-Semitic survivalist groups flourish rampant and poisonous, fertilized by a secretly sympathetic law enforcement team," she writes.

Some have said that because of Lorde's prophetic warnings she was ahead of her time. Sanchez disagrees.

"She was not ahead of her time on LGBT issues, xenophobia, on sexism, on racism, on rising Anti-Semitism, and unfettered corporate greed," said Sanchez. "Sister Audre was on time. She was able to connect the dots of history to what we are living today."

"Our survivals are not separate, even though the terms under which we struggle differ. African-Americans are bound to the Black struggle in South Africa by politics as well as blood." - Audre Lorde

"A Burst of Light" was originally published in 1988, four years before Lorde lost a fierce battle with liver cancer. It was written around the time when she first learned that breast cancer, which she thought was cured, had in fact metastasized into her liver.

Included in the collection are excerpts from journals that Lorde kept during her first three years living with cancer.

"The struggle with cancer now informs all my days," she writes in one entry, "but it is only another face of that continuing battle for self-determination and survival that Black women fight daily, often in triumph."

In the journals, you encounter Lorde's steely intellect. You also meet a mother, a spouse in a bi-racial relationship, and a brilliant, fierce, vulnerable, and committed writer and activist who is fighting for justice, while attempting to make sense of the disease that is ravaging her body, as well as the disease that is destroying Black and Brown lives all over the world.

  Courtesy of Audre Lorde Papers, Spelman College

"Battling racism, and battling heterosexism, and battling apartheid share the same urgency inside of me as battling cancer," she writes in another journal entry.

Said Sanchez of Lorde: "She fought, she taught, she wrote."

Lorde's timeless prose in this collection provides contemporary social justice warriors the language, strategies, and lessons around resistance, through the power of intersectionality, a Pan-African vision, and ultimately — through the power of love and radical self-care.

Contained in this moving volume is an urgent call for readers to take stock at how we choose to live our lives. Lorde exhorts readers to "join together to affect a future the world has not yet conceived, let alone seen."

"Sister Audre was a mighty voice," said Sanchez. "She was a burst of light at a time when a lot of darkness was moving amongst us in this country. It's amazing how relevant she is today."

"A Burst of Light & Other Essays" is available in bookstores now.

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