LGBTQ Literature is a Readers and Book Lovers series dedicated to discussing literature that has made an impact on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. From fiction to contemporary nonfiction to history and everything in between, any literature that touches on LGBTQ themes is welcome in this series. LGBTQ Literature posts on the last Sunday of every month at 7:30 PM EST. If you are interested in writing for the series, please send a message to Chrislove.
In terms of her writing, Audre Lorde identified herself as a poet first and foremost. Yet I don’t think that I have ever read Lorde as a poet. I have read a few of her poems, on rare occasions, here or there, but never in a sustained way, as in one of her book collections of poetry.
(Granted, I’ve really haven’t read any poet in a really sustained way other than in an English Lit. class, It’s not even that I don’t like the genre; I just simply haven’t done so.)
I’m primarily acquainted with Lorde through her two books of essays published in the mid-80’s, Sister Outsider and A Burst of Light. (Part of it is simply that I prefer reading essays, I suppose.) Lorde’s two books of essays are considered to be foundational texts across several academic fields including Black studies, feminist studies, LGBTQ studies, etc. I believe that it was within reading in some of those fields that I discovered Lorde’s essays.
And...in reading a collection of her interviews, Conversations with Audre Lorde, I suppose that I continue to read Lorde in that way. Strange. Everything but the poetry. Reading Conversations with Audre Lorde has certainly allowed me to know more about what a gift she was to literature, yes, and perhaps it’s influencing me to read probably what is the best expression of the writer that is Audre Lorde, the poet.
Indeed, attaining that “crossover audience” is one of the tensions woven throughout this collection of 21 author interviews and conversations spanning from 1975 to 1990, published by University of Mississippi Press and edited by Joan Wylie Hall. Throughout the interviews, Lorde resists strict categorization both in terms of her multiple identities as a Black woman with Caribbean roots, feminist, lesbian and occupationally as librarian (Lorde was once the head librarian at the City University of New York), teacher, poet and writer. For example, in an interview with Karla Hammond in 1978, Lorde reminds us that “there’s always someone asking you to underline one piece of — whether it’s Black, woman, mother, dyke, teacher, etc.— because that’s the piece that they need to key in to. They want to dismiss everything else.” That’s a repeated theme throughout her essays, possibly her poetry, and certainly in her 21 “conversations” in this book.
Some of these “conversations are traditional interviews, some are actually prose pieces that she wrote, some appear to have been “interviews” conducted through exchanges of letters (short questions, page-long essay length answers). It’s all Audre Lorde in all of her complexity...and I mean ALL of it.
And I consider these “conversations” to be a part of her legacy as a poet, writer, feminist, and activist. In fact, I consider most books of the the “author interview” genre to be, perhaps, an important part of their overall work. After all, to sorta paraphrase, why break the printed author interview away from the poetry, the novel, the essay?
it’s all a part of the overall work and the overall writer…
Now to dig into those poems!
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