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Audre Lorde Biography | Poet

Photo of Audre Lorde

The famous poet, Audre Lorde played a big role in women's rights, black rights and lesbian rights. Her poetry reflected on these themes as well as themes of unifying groups and unifying an individual within him or herself. Her prolific poetry and non-fiction influenced many during the second half of the twentieth century. Before she died, Audre participated in a naming ceremony and aptly chose "Gambia Adisa" which means "Warrior: She Whom Makes Her Meaning Known".

Early Life

Born Audrey Geraldine Lorde in New York City in 1934, Audre chose to drop the "y" at the end of her name because she liked the symmetry of her first and last names without it. Her parents immigrated to New York City from the Caribbean and told their three daughters great stories about the West Indies. Audre, their youngest child felt emotionally distant from her parents, who were often busy with their real estate business in the tumultuous years of Great Depression. This distance was reflected in some of her poetry.

Audre learned to read and write at an early age. An introverted child, she learned to express herself through poetry and was writing regularly by her preteen years. She always felt like an outsider in any group she was in due to her dark skin and shyness. She befriended a group of peers from school and they wrote poetry together.


After graduating from a gifted intelligence program in New York City, Audre studied at the National University of Mexico. It was there that she developed her writing skills and came to understand that she was a lesbian. She graduated from New York's Hunter College in 1959 and earned her Master's Degree in Library Science from Columbia University in 1961.


Audre worked as a librarian through college and became head librarian at New York's Town School Library in 1966. She was accepted as a "writer-in-residence" at Tougaloo University in Mississippi and spent 2 years there being impacted by Civil Rights movement. She then became a professor of English at John Jay Collage of Criminal Justice from 1970 through 1981. She helped create the black studies department at the college. Her career continued to advance when she was accepted as the prestigious "Thomas Hunter" chair at her alma mater, Hunter College. As a visiting professor at the Free University of Berlin, the poet was deeply influenced by the "Afro-German" movement which is reflected in her poetry at the time. By then, a prolific published poet, Audre Lorde influenced, not only black women and lesbians, but white men and women as well. She strongly believed the written word was a positive way to resist social issues in society and advance social causes.


Audre married Edwin Rollins, an attorney, in the 1960's. They had 2 children together, Elizabeth and Johnathan. The couple divorced in 1970. While living in Mississippi, she began an affair with Francis Clayton, a professor of psychology at Tougaloo College. The 2 would remain close for the next 20 years. Audre met Mildred Thompson, an artist, in 1977 at the African Festival of Arts and Culture in Nigeria. Before her death in 1992 from liver cancer, Audre Lorde lived in St. Croix with her companion, Gloria Joseph.


As a famous poet and civil and women's rights activist, Audre influenced the world through her literature subtly. She received many awards and honors during her life and posthumously. Following her recovery from breast cancer, Audre wrote "The Cancel Journals". This was named Gay Caucus Book of the Year by the American Library Association in 1981 Following her death in 1992, Audre's friend, Dagmar Schultz produced a documentary titled "Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984-1992. The film premiered at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival. It continues to be showed at international film festivals and won 7 awards including Best Documentary. Audre Lorde proudly served as New York's poet laureate the year before her death. In 1992, Audre was awarded the Bill Whitehead Award for Life Time Achievement by Publishing Triangle.

Major Works

Major works published included "The First Cities", "From a Land Where Other People Live", "Between Ourselves", "The black Unicorn", "Sister Outsider", "A Burst of Light", and "Coal". A posthumous book of poems and writings, "I Am Your Sister" was released In 2009. Audre Lorde will forever be remembered for her themes of unity in the world and unity within oneself. 

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