A welcome refresher course on the life of the poet, feminist, lesbian, and political progressive.
Resilient, mean, and angry, ur-iconoclast Audre Lorde (1934–92), author of The Cancer Journals, was a force of nature with the power of a hurricane. This black lesbian was quick to point out the racism that ran through the feminist movement, and she didn't miss the fact that leftists didn’t necessarily accept homosexuality. All her life, Lorde was very much an outsider, a fact that is important to her biography. She brought a volatile mix of sex, sisterhood, race, and Afro-Caribbean spiritualism—a “house of difference”—into the world of poetry, which was being tossed by its own transformations at that time. De Veaux (Women’s Studies/SUNY Buffalo) digs fruitfully and urgently at Lorde’s ability to express the power and potency of the erotic as energy for social change, an approach that could be overwhelming but was always worthy of attention. Though at times she writes of her subject’s social personal, and sexual life in jarring academese (“Audre’s intensified insistence that Ed communicate his innermost feelings was contradictory to his more traditional notions of masculinity, causing him to resist the feminization of his intimate self”), De Veaux also shows great dexterity in painting a very complicated character. Lorde had double standards when it came to commitments, she struggled against “deep suspicion” of other black lesbians, she possessed a subversive ability to disrupt both the hegemony of mainstream publishing and the anti-hegemony of white feminist lesbian publishing. Her biographer displays a clean grasp of her poetry’s evolution as it moved from non-imitative to re-creational, encompassing African-based spiritualism and embracing the boundaries of identity while refusing to be confined by them.
Perhaps a bit dry for so fiery a character, but the author proficiently succeeds in capturing both Lorde’s importance and her complex personality. (16 pp. b&w photos)