Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Essays and Poems
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) described herself as 'Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet'. Born in New York, she had her first poem published while still at school and her last the year she died of cancer. Her extraordinary belief in the power of language - of speaking - to foster selfhood, articulate injustice and bring about change in the world remains as transformative today as it was then, and no less urgent.
This edition brings together her essential poetry, speeches and essays, including ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’, in one volume for first time.
‘For the complexity of her vision, for her moral courage and the catalytic passion of her language, [Lorde] has already become, for many, an indispensable poet.’ Adrienne Rich
‘What I love about Audre Lorde is her political and emotional honesty, her passion for living life as herself, her understanding of what a privilege and joy this is. I love her patience, as she taught generations (by now) of women and men the sweet if dangerous fun of self-love.’ --Alice Walker
'[With] the constant demand Lorde makes in her work that silences be broken, that we claim our power to make ourselves visible, we have both a theory that conceptualizes our power to set ourselves and our words free, Lorde challenges us to not be trapped by fear.' --bell hooks
‘[Lorde’s] works will be important to those truly interested in growing up sensitive, intelligent, and aware.’ --New York Times
‘Listen to this rich and raging voice.’ --Adrienne Rich
Audre Lorde was born Audrey Geraldine Lorde on 18 February 1934 in New York City. She was the youngest of three children born to parents who had arrived from the West Indies in 1924. She began spelling her name without a ‘y’ at the age of four and attended Hunter College High School on the Upper East Side, one of the best high schools in the US. She published her first poem, in Seventeen magazine, while there. In 1948, as part of the Committee to Free the Rosenbergs, she picketed the White House.
Lorde moved to Mexico for a year after graduation, and on her return to New York worked in odd jobs before studying for a degree in literature and philosophy at Hunter College. In 1961, she earned a master’s degree in library science from Columbia, and then worked as a librarian. In 1962, she married Edward Rollins, a legal aid lawyer; they had two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan.
In 1968, Lorde published her first collection of poetry, The First Cities, and became poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College, Mississippi. During her time there she met the psychotherapist Frances Clayton, who would become her partner for many years, and began writing the politically engaged work first collected in 1970 as Cables to Rage. That year she divorced her husband and set up a household with her children and Frances on Staten Island. From a Land where Other People Live appeared in 1973, and was nominated for a National Book Award the following year. In the 1970s, Lorde began corresponding with Adrienne Rich and Alice Walker, among others, as well as publishing five more books of poetry. In 1977, she gave a speech at the Modern Languages Association conference in Chicago that would become ‘The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action’. She would continue to speak at academic conferences, gay pride marches and readings for the rest of her life. In 1978, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, and in 1980 she published her first book of non-fiction, The Cancer Journals.
Following a conversation with the writer Barbara Smith in 1980, Lorde helped to found Kitchen Table Press, to publish books by and about women of colour. In 1982, she published her autobiographical novel, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, and two years later her essays and speeches were collected as Sister Outsider. She began teaching at the Freie Universität Berlin in 1984 and in 1987 was the first woman to be named Thomas Hunter Professor at Hunter College. She began living in St Croix on the US Virgin Islands that year with Gloria Joseph, a professor of Africana studies. She was named New York State Poet Laureate in 1991, and died of cancer, aged 58, on 17 November 1992 in St Croix.
Reni Eddo-Lodge was born in London to British Nigerian parents in 1989, published her first book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, in spring 2017. She has written for Vogue, the New York Times and the Guardian. She lives in London.
Sara Ahmed is an independent feminist scholar. She has published eight books and writes a blog called Feminist Killjoy; her latest book, Living a Feminist Life, came out in 2017 and contains a killjoy survival kit in which she places many of Audre Lorde’s books. She lives on the outskirts of a village in Cambridgeshire.