5 Essential Audre Lorde Readings for Women's History Month

Photograph of Audre Lorde, smiling, while wearing a straw hat and sitting in an outdoor cafe. A textbox to the right of her reads "5 essential Audre Lorde readings for Women's History Month." The red POC logo is on the bottom. Image via Audre Lorde - The Berlin Years website.

Photograph of Audre Lorde, smiling, while wearing a straw hat and sitting in an outdoor cafe. A textbox to the right of her reads "5 essential Audre Lorde readings for Women's History Month." The red POC logo is on the bottom. Image via Audre Lorde - The Berlin Years website.

by Abaki Beck

Audre Lorde is a prominent black lesbian feminist whose essays and poetry continue to impact and inspire people of color and other marginalized folks striving for justice. I was first introduced to the poignant and powerful writing of Lorde my sophomore year of college in a class on anti-racist allyship. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” linked below, was transformative to my relationship with activism and my own emotions.  At the time, I, like many others, saw anger as “undesirable,” and believed that it was merely an unproductive energy sucker. In this piece, Lorde challenges us to view anger as both a valid response to racism as well as a source of power and energy in fighting injustices.

Her writing is particularly focused on the experiences of black women, and women of color more broadly. Her writing also often directly challenged white women and white feminism; like Mary Daly, who wrote Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminists, or white feminist academic conference planners. While in mainstream feminism she is often cited when talking about self-care (read a critique of this in Bitch Magazine by Aqdas Aftab), it’s crucial to remember the wide range of topics she critically discussed and responded to. Lorde is a strong leader in women of color feminist thought and radically challenged white supremacy, even in so called radical spaces. 

For Women’s History Month, here are 5 essential Audre Lorde readings to keep you challenged, engaged, and empowered.  

 

“The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” (1977)

“For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us...it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”

 

“The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” (1978)

“We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings...The fear of our desires keeps them suspect and indiscriminately powerful, for to suppress any truth is to give it strength beyond endurance. The fear that we cannot grow beyond whatever distortions we may find within ourselves keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and leads us to accept many facets of our oppression as women.”

 

“The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” (1981)

"It is not the anger of other women that will destroy us but our refusals to stand still, to listen to its rhythms, to learn within it, to move beyond the manner of presentation to the substance, to tap that anger as an important source of empowerment."

 

Poetry is Not a Luxury

“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”

 

“A Litany for Survival” and other poems (first poem; this pdf has a collection of her poems)

“...and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid

So it is better to speak

remembering

we were never meant to survive”

 

BONUS! Here’s a PDF of the full, 297 page book I am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writing of Audre Lorde, edited by Rudolph P Byrd, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall (for easier navigation, if you click on the title of a piece in the table of contents, you can jump to it!)