Your Silence Will Not Protect You
by Audre Lorde
With a Preface by Reni Eddo-Lodge and an Introduction by Sara Ahmed
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) described herself as 'Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet'. The essays, poems and speeches in this collection show the ways she transformed the struggles she lived through – from the civil rights movement in 1960s America and the vitality and tensions of second wave feminism, to her own sexuality and experience of breast cancer – into messages of hope.
Your Silence Will Not Protect You brings Lorde's poetry and prose together for the first time.
Publication: 2 October 2017
Extent: 220 pages
Praise for Audre Lorde
‘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
About Audre Lorde
Writer, teacher and activist, Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was born Audrey Geraldine Lorde in New York City on 18 February, 1934. She was the youngest of three children born to Frederick Byron Lorde (known as Byron) and Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde, strict Caribbean immigrant parents who settled in Harlem. Nearsighted and legally blind, Lorde was also so silent until the age of five that she was thought to perhaps be mute too. Poetry provided the means to express her inner world—"bubbles up from chaos that you had to anchor with words"—and shaped Lorde's thought from an early age. She published her first poem in Seventeen magazine while still in high school; her poetry written during these years formed the basis of her first collection, First Cities, published in 1968.
Lorde moved to Mexico at the age of nineteen to attend the National University of Mexico for a year after graduating from Hunter College High School, a secondary school for intellectually gifted students. It was a pivotal experience: inspired by the beauty of the landscape, Lorde produced her first work of published prose upon her return to New York, where she attended Hunter College, graduating in 1959. She published the story 'La Llorona' under the name Rey Domini in a magazine, and did not write prose again until the 1970s. In 1961, Lorde earned a master’s degree in library science from Columbia University, working as a librarian at Mount Vernon Public Library. During this time she continued to write and publish poetry and was politically active in anti-war, civil rights and feminist movements. She married Edward Ashley Rollins, an attorney; they divorced in 1970 after having two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan.
In 1968, Lorde received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for poetry and became poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College, Mississippi. Her experiences at the small, historically black institution in the Deep South were transformative. The poems in her second volume of poetry, Cables to Rage (1970), were written during this time and reflect the political urgency—"the sense of living on the edge of chaos"—that intensified with the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Leading poetry workshops, as a northern Black poet meeting young, southern Black students, led to her discovery of teaching as "a survival technique". At Tougaloo, Lorde met Frances Clayton, who would be her partner of many years, and published 'Martha', the first poem to publicly confirm her queerness, in Cables to Rage. Her relationship with Edward and library work were now in the past.
Lorde continued teaching back in New York, on a writing programme at City College and at Lehmann College and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, two predominantly white institutions. Education work provided personal, literary and political challenges: teaching grammar, Lorde learnt how to write prose, that "tenses are a way of ordering the chaos around time." At Lehmann, Lorde taught classes on racism to white students, "the connections between their lives and the fury," and at John Jay, Lorde established a Black studies programme. In 1981, she went on to teach at Hunter College, her alma mater, as the distinguished Thomas Hunter chair, and at the Free University of Berlin as visiting professor from 1984.
From a Land Where Other People Live, Lorde's third volume of poetry, was published in 1973 and was nominated for the National Book Award for poetry, followed by New York Head Shop and Museum in 1974. Coal (1976), Lorde's fifth book, collected together poetry from her earlier volumes and was the first with a major publisher, W. W. Norton, introducing her work to a broader readership. With its publication, Lorde began her association with the poet Adrienne Rich, and became established as a major voice in the Black Arts Movement. Coal was followed by Between Our Selves (1976), Hanging Fire (1978) and The Black Unicorn (1978).
In the late 1970s, Lorde wrote the essays and speeches collected first in Sister Outsider (1984) and now in Your Silence Will Not Protect You. Beginning with 'Poetry is Not a Luxury' (1977), and including 'The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House' (1979), Lorde produced a series of trailblazing prose pieces taking on racism, sexism, homophobia and class, laying the foundations for intersectional feminist thought today.
Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, a feminist publisher run by women of colour, was born in 1980 out of a conversation between Lorde and Barbara Smith about the need to "develop those structures that will present and circulate our culture." The press published some landmark works of Black feminism, including This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (both in 1983) and Audre Lorde's I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities (1986).
Lorde's autobiographical novel, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, published in 1982, explored her many different identities from her childhood to maturity. Her fourteen-year long battle with cancer is examined in The Cancer Journals (1980). She was New York State Poet Laureate from 1991 until her death of cancer at the age of fifty-eight on November 17, 1992, in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.