Her mother was of mixed heritage, and her family expressed pride in her ability to 'pass' as white. The marriage caused controversy as Frederick Lorde was deemed too dark-skinned for the family of Linda Belmar to approve of. His charm won them over, but this attitude affected the way in which Ms Lorde was to relate to the world; she did not agree, and her mother would often disparage darker-skinned women. The family was also strictly religious.
Whilst at High School Ms Lorde had a poem published in Seventeen magazine. It was a romantic poem rejected by her Catholic school for publication because of its romanticism. Ms Lorde was not yet 'out' as a lesbian but her poetry openly explored her feelings. Her poetry would grow to address issues of racism, homosexuality and sexism. Relations with her family became estranged. Her best friend Genevieve Thompson passed away when Ms Lorde was in her late teens, and this combined with conflict with her family over religion, race and sexuality led to a long separation.
Upon graduation Ms Lorde travelled to study at the National University of Mexico where she experienced her first lesbian relationships. Ms Lorde then returned to New York to attend Hunter College in New York, graduating in 1959 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. To support herself while studying she worked a variety of jobs including factory worker, ghost writer, social worker, medical clerk, and arts & crafts supervisor.
Ms Lorde continued writing and after leaving University met with success. She began to openly identify as a lesbian and described herself professionally as a poet. She entered Colombia University and graduated with a Masters in Library Science in 1961. Ms Lorde was a successful published poet at this time, with a growing reputation as an activist. Although identifying as lesbian, she had relationship with men also and in 1962 married Edwin Rollins, a lawyer who identified as homosexual. They had two children together before divorcing in 1970.
Ms Lorde was politically active in civil rights, feminism and anti-war movements throughout the 1960s. Whilst working as Head Librarian and teaching poetry at various schools throughout the southern States of America during this period, she experienced extreme examples of oppression which she fought in her poetry and in her campaigning. In 1970 she openly confirmed her lesbian identity in the poem 'Martha', published in her second collection Cables to Rage in 1970. Her reputation was cemented when her third collection From a Land Where Other People Live (1973) was nominated for a National Book Award.
Ms Lorde was working as Writer-in-Residence at Tougaloo College, Mississippi in 1968 when she met Frances Clayton, with whom she was to have a long-term relationship lasting until 1989. Ms Lorde and her partners were not monogamous, and she would have other long-term relationships in this time, including with Mildred Thompson whom she met in Nigeria in 1977 at the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture.
In 1978 Ms Lorde was first diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, which she dealt with through her poetry and saw as a further layer of self-identity and experience. She was strongly critical of second wave feminism's predominantly white and middle-class experience of gender, promoting an intersectional ideology of individual overlaying experiences within experiences of discrimination. Her repertoire extended to essays and prose exploring the experiences of race, gender, beauty, motherhood; all experiences of her own womanhood and of the oppression she experienced through the myriad facets of her identity. She was frequently an angry voice, defying the gender ideal of gentle femininity, and was lauded and criticised for this tone.
In 1981 Ms Lorde won the Gay Caucus Book of the Year award for The Cancer Journals (1980),detailing her experience of living with cancer and the effects upon one's identity. Ms Lorde was appointed Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Hunter College. In the late 1980s Ms Lorde co-founded 'Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press' with Barbara Smith and Cherrie Moraga, the first publishing firm in the United States dedicated to publishing works of black women. She also served on the board of the Feminist Press. Ms Lorde also created the group Sisterhood in Support of Sisters to address apartheid in South Africa.
In 1988 Ms Lorde received Manhattan Borough President's Award for Excellence in the Arts and was awarded an American Book Award in 1989 for A Burst of Light (1988). In 1991 she was appointed Poet Laureate for New York State, receiving the Walt Whitman Citation.
Ms Lorde died on 17th November 1992 from the breast cancer she had been fighting for over a decade. Her partner Gloria L. Joseph, with whom she had been residing in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. was at her side. Ms Lorde defined herself as a "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet", and through an African naming ceremony she had before her death she took the name 'Gambda Adisa', which means "Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known".
The First Cities (1968)
Cables to Rage (1970)
New York Head Shop and Museum (1974)
Between Our Selves (1976)
The Black Unicorn (1978)
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982)
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984)
Blog by Tina Price-Johnson