The Power of Zami

The Power of Zami

The Power of Zami

Audre Lorde was a black, lesbian, writer and poet, she was born in the first part of the 20th century, this was during a time when black people were discriminated against and homosexuals were harshly judged. Lorde wrote about her life and experiences in her poetry, novels, essays and other writings. In these writings, especially in Sister Outsider, and Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, she includes her family, friends and lovers, the people that helped her through the harsh world that they all experienced – it was her personal “Zami.” Lorde describes what a Zami is in the epilogue of her book Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, she states, “A Carriacou name for women who work together as friends and lovers” (255).

Upon reading about Lorde’s Zami, the influence and inspiration for the piece, “The Power of Zami,” was found. Each woman included is one of Lorde’s friends or lovers that she had during her life’s journey with as close to description as possible from moments in Lorde’s book. One such description, Lorde described, “Kitty was still trim and fast-lined, but with an easier looseness about her smile and a lot less make-up… Her hair was still straightened, but shorter, and her black Bermuda shorts and knee socks matched her astonishingly shiny black loafers. A black turtleneck pullover completed her sleek costume” (245). The women surround Lorde in a semicircle. The semicircle represents a ring of support around Lorde that she leans on throughout her life. Now, outside the semicircle are signs of the racist and harsh world that together they face – the signs are influenced by modern day slurs, that many feel uncomfortable to speak though racists and homophobes tend to say. The people holding the signs are grayed and lack detail to represent that they fade into the background, they are anyone with no distinct features. Now moving back to the center of the piece, Lorde is in the center because although the women may not have interacted with each other, the focal point of shared interest is Lorde and their interactions with her. Unlike the others, Lorde is on the ground, kneeling whilst the others stand, it is meant to be a more vulnerable position as if she is down or even injured and needs protection from the harsh slurs and cruelty of society. The ring of women protects Lorde but it is only a semicircle, hence the position of Lorde, she has experienced the cruelty of the world and now leans on the others for support and to understand such cruelty.

Although Lorde had these women for support and protection, this was not always the case. The semicircle presents a break in the support, a time and place when there was not as much help and she experienced the cruelty of the world. Such a time was early in her years, when she was still in grade and high school and as she continued to grow. Lorde describes, “Did their mothers caution them about never trusting outsiders? But they visited each other. There was something here that I was missing. Since the only place I couldn’t see clearly was behind my own eyes, obviously the trouble was with me. I had no words for racism” (81). Lorde was forced to experience racism before she even knew what it was. This instance amongst others she experienced early in life would have created distrust towards others, enough so that when she traveled she was shocked by the friendliness she first encountered in Mexico (154). Lorde had frequently experienced racism and discrimination throughout her life, which influences the piece and her position in the circle.
Lorde’s descriptions in her writings heavily influence the piece I created, “The Power of Zami.” The women help Lorde with the struggles of discrimimation and racism in the unjust world of the early 20th century. “The Power of Zami” is meant to represent Lorde and her personal Zami that she made throughout her life, outside of her Zami are the cruel members of society that blend in with everyone else, the racists and the homophobes that treat others with cruelty. Lorde has been hurt by the cruelty she has experienced but has found others to help support and empower her.

Work Cited
Lorde, Audre. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Crossing Press.

Natural Beauty of a Lesbian Relationship

Audre Lorde was a black, lesbian, mother, survivor, author, activist and warrior. While Lorde was, at one time, married to a man, with whom she had two children, throughout the course of her life she increasingly explored her sexuality and came to identify as a lesbian. In Lorde’s “Love Poem,” published in 1973, the speaker makes comparisons between a woman’s body and nature. These constant comparisons of the woman’s body to nature are a way for Lorde to say that being with a woman is natural. When she is with a woman is when she feels most grounded to the earth and her true self. Lorde focuses more on the beauty of her partners and admiring their physique, just like someone would admire a beautiful mountain.

 In order to understand the sexual imagery of nature in Lorde’s “Love Poem,” it’s useful to understand her life. Lorde was born and raised in New York City. As a young girl, Lorde had a passion for reading and writing, it was a way for her to express her emotions in a fun and creative way. Many of Lordes writings were centered around her struggle to find her identity. In her early life, she married Edwin Rollins and had two children with him. Later on, they got divorced and Lorde began the journey to find her identity. Lorde took her readers on this journey with her. During this time period, many people were not in support of the LGBTQ+ community. According to Morris, in the 1970’s lesbians “formed their own collectives, record labels, music festivals, newspapers, bookstores, and publishing houses, and called for lesbian rights in mainstream feminist groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW)” (2009). Lorde, as well as many other people, during this time received backlash about identifying within the LGBTQ+ community. Many people began to relate to Lorde’s pieces and they started to create a community of strong women. One of the things that most of these women had in common were that they identified as lesbians. In “Love Poem,” Lorde describes the female body in relation to nature.

            In the first stanza, Lorde uses images of mountains and valleys to describe the beautiful curves of a woman’s physique. The poem starts out with Lorde describing the physique of women by saying “Speak earth and bless me with what is richest/ make sky flow honey out of my hips/ rigid as mountains/ spread over a valley/ carved out by the mouth of rain” (lines 1-5). In these lines, the speaker seems to be talking to a God, ‘Speak earth and bless me with what is richest” (1) ‘make sky flow’ (2) has a religious connotation. As we know, Lorde grew up in a Christian home, this leads me to believe she is praying to a higher power. Asking and begging for a woman. Lorde also uses nature such as “mountains” and “valley” to describe the breasts and genitalia of a woman’s body. This symbolizes that the way she is feeling is natural as a way to show that woman’s bodies are natural and works of art. Lorde writes, “Speak earth and bless me with what is richest” (1). The definition of richest is plentiful; abundant. When I think of something being plentiful or abundant I think of nature and wildlife. Lorde could be praying for a woman because in her eyes that is what would make her feel the most fulfilled. This stanza shows that the rest of the poem is going to be about how Lorde feels when she is with a woman.

            The second stanza of this poem offers detailed and graphic descriptions of the speaker’s sexual relations with women. The first lines of this stanza directly talk about sex. Lorde writes, “And I knew when I entered her/ I was high in her forests hollow” (lines 6-7). By blatantly saying the phrase ‘when I entered her’ (6) the reader can assume that Lorde is talking about penetration with another female. This is also the second time that the speaker refers to a women’s genitalia as a ‘forest’. The forest is often a symbol for a mysterious place. So, the reader could infer that this is the first time the speaker is with a woman and that being intimate is a mysterious thing for her. This stanza continues to go into intimate detail about the woman’s body. Lorde writes, “honey flowed/ from the split cup” (lines 9-10). Many times, when referring to a women’s genitalia it gets compared to a honey pot. In these lines, Lorde is referring to the discharge that happens to a woman when participating in sexual intercourse comparing it to honey. The next few lines of this stanza describe the sexual acts that the speaker is performing on her partner. Lorde writes, “impaled on a lance of tongues/ on the tips of her/ breasts on her navel/ and my breath/ howling into her entrances/ through lungs of pain” (lines 11-15). These lines continue to talk about women in relation to nature. Using the phrase, “howling”(14) reminds me of a wolf. Wolves have the ability to make very quick emotional attachments; because of this they have learned to trust their hearts and minds. In these lines, the speaker could be taking those aspects of a wolf into her own life. Trusting her own heart and mind to do what feels most comfortable for her, which is being with a woman. These lines are giving the reader a detailed description of the erotic play that the speaker is performing during intercourse. Throughout this stanza, Lorde pushes the boundaries for the reader while comparing nature to the erotic acts of women.

            The last stanza of this poem is describing the aftermath of the erotic behavior that was being represented in stanza two. Lorde writes, “Greedy as herring-gulls/ or a child” (lines 16-17). I believe that the speaker is comparing herself to a herring-gull. This example is showing how Lorde enjoyed her intimate time with her partner. The phrase ‘greedy as a herring-gull’ (16) is implying that Lorde wants more. Many times, when you feed a herring- gull they come back always wanting more food and they will not leave until you give them the food or they find somewhere else to satisfy that craving. This simile shows that Lorde is being greedy with her sexual desires. This could be because she is finally comfortable with her own sexual identity. The last lines of this poem read, “I swing out over the earth/ over and over/ again” (lines 18-20). This example is referring to the woman as the ‘earth’. By using repetition of the phrase “over and over again” is implying that Lorde continued this erotic behavior time and time again.

            Additionally, when Lorde published “Love Poem” the idea of being a lesbian was not something that poets were used to reading or writing about. Lorde’s publisher wanted her to change the pronouns in the poem, but Lorde refused to change them to stay authentic to herself. In an interview with Adrienne Rich Lorde says, “Being an open lesbian in the Black community is not easy, although being closeted is even harder” (99). I believe that this poem was Lorde’s coming out to the community. By comparing the woman’s body to nature and expressing her love for women through her writing was her way of not being closeted anymore. Lorde also says, “I had already made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be worrying any more over who knows and who doesn’t know that I have always loved women” (99). This is another example of Lorde portraying her authentic self to her readers. In “Love Poem,” Audre Lorde allows the reader to embark on this journey of being intimate with another woman. The author does this by comparing the woman’s body to nature.

American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association,

Lorde, Audre, and Mahogany L. Browne. Sister Outsider. Penguin Books, 2020.

Lorde, Audre. “Love Poem.”, 11 Sept. 2005,

Picture retrieved from

The Power of Sisterhood

In a world where equality is written into law, why are women paid less than a man for the same job? Why are women more likely to be stalked, raped, abused, and even killed? Why are young girls taught to travel in packs or how to turn everyday items into weapons? To check the backseat of their car before getting in? Why are women misjudged, misquoted, misunderstood, underestimated, cast aside? This world is not meant for women to thrive, we can barely survive.

In a world where “we were never meant to survive” (Lorde, “A Litany for Survival”), how do we keep on surviving? What keeps us alive? Sisterhood–a community of women dedicated to keeping each other lifted. Finding that sisterhood is vital. Someone who knew that well was Audre Lorde. A self-described: “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” (Poetry Foundation), Lorde’s life was full of rich female relationships of all kinds. Some friends, some lovers, some both; some long-term, some fleeting, but all life-sustaining. Without that love, Lorde may not have survived like so many other women. This community taught Lorde about the world, herself, as well as buoying her when needed. Lorde’s works often reflected the necessity of these relationships, through her adolescence, into adulthood, and her battle with breast cancer the love of and from women were central. 

Historically, women have been pitted against each other, “encouraged to view each other with suspicion, as eternal competitors, or as the visible face of our own self-rejection” (Lorde, “Scratching…” 49). The patriarchal world fears the power women would have if we came together so they pitted us against each other. Lorde was often critical of the way women fought against each other for crumbs. In her personal life she found that creating a support network–a sisterhood, is vital for surviving this world that would prefer to keep her down. A world that would rather she not survive, not grow into her true power. 

From her adolescence, Lorde banded together with other women. In her biomythography Zami, the plot is often driven by the relationships Lorde is experiencing at the time. “The Branded” as her high school friend group called themselves were a central part of her adolescence as well as her poetry writing. Lorde writes “we were The Branded, the Lunatic Fringe, proud of our outrageousness and our madness…we wrote obscure poetry and cherished our strangeness…We became The Branded because we learned how to make a virtue out of it [suffering]” (Lorde, Zami 82). Lorde often describes her poetry as her primary mode of communication. Her time with The Branded helped hone her communicative poems, more than likely providing her a way to work through the pain and suffering she felt then and later in life. In the same vein of her high school experiences, Lorde meets and befriends Gennie. Gennie is the first true friend Lorde has. Together the two girls lead an experimental life; they play with their identities, trying on different costumes to be different people (Lorde, Zami 87-88). With Gennie, Lorde is able to escape the rigidity of her mother’s home and experiment with the kinds of lives she could live. They spend “glorious and exciting days” away from the “war at home” (Lorde, Zami 89). That summer with Gennie became a catalyst for what would become Lorde’s young adult life. Gennie’s suicide cuts short a beautiful life and a beautiful love.  Through her depiction of these friendships in her adolescence Lorde reveals the power and impact they can have. 

As I piece through Lorde’s works, from her poetry to her essays, there are more often than not mentions of women and their power. Even when she seems to be writing about a topic unrelated to sisterhood, the importance of female friendships continually resurfaces. Clearly, for Lorde, that sisterhood is foundational to everything and anything else. She recognized that in her life, but also as a larger need for women. Even though she was often critical of the sisterhood practiced in the world, her theory of that power remains part of a lot of her work. Women all have battles to wage, tyrannies against them and that together we can ALL make it out alive. We should band together because of our differences, not in spite of them. In her piece “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” that strength amongst women is crucial to her thesis. She writes, “we [women] all shared a war against the tyrannies of silence. They all gave me a strength and concern without which I could not have survived intact” (Lorde, “The Transformation…” 41). When she reflects on these women at the end of Zami, she writes that “every woman I have ever loved has left her print upon me, where I loved some invaluable piece of myself apart from me–so different that I had to stretch and grow in order to recognize her” (Lorde, Zami 255). Loving the women around her was another way to love herself. Those women helped her recognize pieces of herself that she was neglecting or missing. 

In her adult life, her love of women became ever prevalent. She developed deep friendships with other women writers and activists. One example of that is her friendship and work with Adrienne Rich. These two women not only shared a deep friendship but a rich working relationship as well. They challenged each others’ writing, “Lorde urging Rich to be less sentimental and more nuanced….and Rich encouraging Lorde to write about the fear of cancer that loomed over life, which ultimately became one of Lorde’s most powerful essays” (Savonick Manuscript). Without the relationship the two women shared, there would be a lot missing from their library of works. They challenged and questioned each other all in the name of loving each other. One of the most striking things about their relationship was the work they did together or because of each other. Both Rich and Lorde learned new perspectives from each other. Each learning the other’s perspective from a racial standpoint that opens up the complicated and often messy inner-workings of sisterhood. In a documented interview between the two women they discuss everything from Lorde’s life and works, to their shared teaching experiences and life experiences. Towards the end of the interview Rich asks Lorde for help in perceiving the world of Black women. What follows can read tense as they both try to come to an understanding between each other. This tenseness between them can be spiraled out to a larger issue between Black women and white women. The message that women’s movements commonly hold are that they are  for all women, however, these  often excluded Black women–and that was something Lorde was incredibly critical of. Rich implores Lorde for her point of view to help align them towards an understanding. Lorde responds “that’s the only thing I’ve had to fight with, my whole life, preserving my perceptions of how things are, and later, learning how to accept and correct at the same time. Doing this in the face of tremendous opposition and cruel judgement” (“Interview Audre Lorde/ Adrienne Rich” 105). Rich accepts Lorde’s answer with her only view, “I’ve had great resistance to some of your perceptions. They can be very painful to me. Perceptions about what goes on between us, what goes on between Black and white people…But I don’t want to deny them. I know I can’t afford to” (“Interview Audre Lorde/ Adrienne Rich” 105). In this isolated interview these women begin a conversation that needs to happen globally. Women are stronger together, that has been proven, but we have to come together in love and understanding. We have to accept that there are differences between us, and we should revel in those. Difference is beautiful and central to the human experience, but those differences should be appreciated in political movements such as the Women’s movement. Use the differences in our sisterhood to bring about a new way to be, a new way to live with and love each other. Do not turn a blind eye to the messy because it is easier that way, embrace it, work through it even when it gets uncomfortable. The mess will be worth it. 

Rich’s encouragement to Lorde to write about her experiences with cancer may have led her to publish “The Cancer Journals” which is a rich text of feminine work. Through Lorde’s entire ordeal with breast cancer, from diagnosis to recovery, she is surrounded by a network of women who loved her. She writes extensively about the support she felt from all of the women, even the ones she had never met and the ones she did not like. She felt this sense of them supporting her when she could not support herself. At a time of confusion and pain, Lorde writes that “I do know that there was a tremendous amount of love and support flowing into me from the women around me, and it felt like being bathed in a continuous tide of positive energies” (Lorde, “Cancer Journals” 39). Through both Lorde’s testimonies as well as reader inference, it is clear that the network of women around her was crucial to her recovery. 

In this world those who are different, those who do not fit, are pushed down, they are not meant to survive. Lorde saw herself as one of those people. She saw that more often than not a lot of others were not surviving. So why did she? How did she survive? One of the possible answers seems to lie in her own inner feminine fire as well as the presence of such a strong clan of women and their dynamic energy surrounding her.

Work Cited

Lorde, Audre. “A Litany For Survival By Audre Lorde | Poetry Foundation”. Poetry Foundation, 2020,

——-. The Cancer Journals. Aunt Lute Books. 1980. 

——-. “An Interview: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich.” Sister Outsider, edited by Nancy K. Bereano, Crossing Press, 2007, pp. 81-109.

——-. “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” Sister Outsider, edited by Nancy K. Bereano, Crossing Press, 2007, pp. 40-44.

——-. “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving.” Sister Outsider, edited by Nancy K. Bereano, Crossing Press, 2007, pp. 45-52.

——-. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. New York, Crossing Press, 1982.

 “Audre Lorde | Poetry Foundation”. Poetry Foundation, 2020,

Savonick, Danicka. Insurgent Knowledge: The Poetics and Pedagogy of Toni Cade Bambara, June Jordan, Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich in the Era of Open Admissions. Chapter: “Audre Lorde’s Pedagogies of Difference” 2020. 

Women Need Other Women to Survive Spiritually and Mentally

Audre Lorde was a woman of strength. She changed the views on what a black, lesbian, warrior poet could be. One crucial point in Lorde’s life was her diagnosis with breast cancer. When she was diagnosed, she went through a difficult time where she questioned many things about her life and how she lived it. Lorde’s The Cancer Journals describe her journey with pain and suffering. With this journey she lost a breast which, to Lorde, was like losing a part of her soul. Though she lost her breast she gained strength through the women in her life. Though the mastectomy and chemotherapy helped her survive physically, the women in her life gave her the strength to survive spiritually and mentally.

      In our society a breast is seen as a characterizing trait of a woman. For Lorde, one of the hardest parts of her diagnosis was the idea that she would no longer have her breast. She recounts her sadness towards the absence of her breast. She says, “And for the first time deeply and fleetingly a groundswell of sadness rolled up over me and that filled my mouth and eyes almost to drowning. My right breast represented such an area of feeling and pleasure for me, how could I bear never to feel that again?” (43). A breast is one of the things on a woman’s body that makes her uniquely beautiful and when it is gone there is a lack of identity. This shows the importance of what makes a woman who they are. This idea of the breast can connect back to pleasure week. In pleasure week we talked about the importance of the erotic. The idea that the erotic is not just something sexual but something that gives us true feelings of happiness. So, with a breast she feels the comfort of her womanhood and feels connected to herself. She finds pleasure in being able to touch her breast and when it is not there it seems to weaken her. So, for Lorde to come out of this makes her a warrior. It makes her a warrior to be able to live a life after the death of her breast. 

         When Lorde’s mastectomy was over she was recommended by doctors and nurses to get a prosthetic breast. This, to them, is the normal way to deal with the loss of a breast. At this time it was common and even expected of women to get a prosthetic breast. To Lorde, this seemed to reinforce the patriarchal society that objectifies breasts. Lorde says in her journals, “For not even the most skillful prosthesis in the world could undo that reality, or feel the way my breast had felt, and whether I would love my body one-breasted now, or remain forever alien to myself” (44). This beautiful quote conveys Lorde’s belief that having one breast that was real and a part of her body was better than trying to cover up the lost breast with a fake one. Lorde almost seems to talk about her lost breast as a person. She grieves for the lost breast and does not replace it with another because for her, it had a special place in her heart that could not be replaced. She needed that empty place on her chest to remain empty in order to remind herself of the breast she lost. She believed that a prosthetic would be a way of covering up the pain of the loss. With denying the pain of an amputation there would be no strength to build off of. Lorde used this amputation as a way to make her a stronger woman.

Lorde’s journals illustrate how significant women were in healing her mental state after the operation. She decided that she wanted to live her life with the people who were most important to her. In Lorde’s journal she describes how women supported her mental recovery:

But support will always have a special and vividly erotic set of image/meanings for me now, one of which is floating upon a sea within a ring of women like warm bubbles keeping me afloat upon the surface of that sea. I can feel the texture of inviting water just beneath their eyes, and do not fear it. It is the sweet smell of their breath and laughter and voices calling my name that gives me volition, helps me remember I want to turn away from looking down. These images flow quickly, the tangible floods of energy rolling off these women toward me that I converted into power to heal myself (39).

These women kept Lorde afloat and prevented her from drowning in her own sorrows. This signifies that women have the power to lift each other up during their lowest moments. With the image of her being kept afloat by all of the women showed that they kept her from drowning in her own sorrows. This made Lorde a stronger person because it gave her a sense of the power of other women and the impact they have on each other’s lives. 

         Lorde’s The Cancer Journals reflect upon her hard times with breast cancer and the moments where she felt she could not control her body. Lorde states “The acceptance of death as a fact rather than a desire to die, can empower my energies with a forcefulness and vigor not always possible when one eye is out unconsciously for eternity” (26). In this quote it shows the toll that breast cancer had on Lorde mentally. She describes the situation that she is in as one that is not of free will. She does not have the choice on how her body will react to the cancer. This would be mentally draining for anyone. Yet, she survived all of this and became a stronger woman. In Lorde’s “A Litany for Survival” she states “We were never meant to survive.” But, through her journey with breast cancer it transformed those words. Maybe we were never meant to survive alone. Perhaps we were meant to survive if we had the support of other women in our lives to carry us through tough times and keep us afloat.

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. “A Litany for Survival by Audre Lorde.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,
Lorde, Audre. The Cancer Journals. 2nd ed., Aunt Lute Books, 1980.

Solidarity vs. Medical Racism

As a breast cancer patient, Audre Lorde was mistreated by doctors and medical professionals. Rather than an isolated incident, Lorde’s experiences reflect the broader racism, sexism, and homophobia that many experiences in the medical industry. In this blog post, I show how Lorde’s queer community became a crucial support structure that helped her navigate these traumatic and horrifying experiences. While she lamented the fact that she had no models to learn from, she used her experiences to write The Cancer Journals manifesting herself as a role model for individuals, such as queer women of color patients, who were in need of guidance. 

Lorde recorded her mistreatment in The Cancer Journals. Lorde equated her experience of breast removal to that of being removed by her mother, “The pain of separation from my breast was at least as sharp as the pain of separating from my mother” (26). This sentence elaborates on how her pain was a physical and emotional experience that left her vulnerable. Not many patients received the same attention or care that was rightly needed post operations. Lorde touches on her personal experience with being neglected basic utilities and care. Lorde writes, “I yelled and screamed and complained about the cold and begged for extra blankets, but none came” (27). For recovering patients, it’s essential for medical staff to pay attention and provide the necessary needs, not to ignore them and refuse them care. Like many patients, Lorde was scared after waking up from her operation. When the medical staff refused to give Lorde attention, this was a sign of neglect, which could have been dangerous for her health.

As Lorde was in the hospital battling breast cancer, her friends gave her hope through solidarity. Lorde writes, “I remember their faces as we shared the knowledge and the promise of shared strengths in the trial days to come. In some way, it was as if each of the people I love most dearly came one by one to my bedside where we made a silent pledge of strength and sisterhood no less scared than if it had been pledged in blood rather than love (28).” Lorde had a support system that not only comforted her but empowered her. Lorde’s work has shown how queer womxn of color have overcome obstacles that challenge the predominant white heterosexual cig-gender patriarchal society, by maintaining a fundamental foundation of solidarity. Growing up, Lorde did not submit to some of her family’s cultural and traditional norms, nor was she accepted as a Black individual growing up in NYC. Once Lorde graduated High School, she moved out of her family’s home, “And we duplicated or reached for with each other some kinds of networks because we knew that it meant survival.” (A Litany for Survival). Decades have passed, and Lorde still had her fundamental community of queer women of color through her journey battling cancer.

As Lorde was recovering from her operation, she was encouraged to wear a prosthetic breast, which, for her, reflected a patriarchal perspective on women’s bodies. After her operation, Lorde interacted with a white blonde woman from the Reach for Recovery program. The white woman had good intentions. She assured other women going through post-mastectomies, just as Lorde had, that “you are just as good as you were before because you can look exactly the same (42).” However, this mindset was constructed by the patriarchy, emphasizing what a woman’s body should look like, normalizing breasts to equate womanhood. Lorde refused to wear the prosthetic to refute the patriarchal stance for other breast cancer survivors who shared a similar mindset. She defied norms and took action in her own way. 

After her operation, the doctors, nurses, and the woman from Reach for Recovery all assumed that Lorde was straight. Lorde did not feel comfortable sharing her sexual orientation with this woman, and she withheld her questions about intimacy. Lorde writes, “I ached to talk to women about the experience I had just been through, and about what might be to come, and how we’re doing it and how they had done it. But I needed to talk with women who shared at least some of my major concerns and beliefs and visions, who shared at least some of my language. And this lady, admirable though she might be, did not” (42). Lorde yearned for a mentor or medical professional who could guide her through the process of her recovery, “Where are the models for what I’m supposed to be in this situation (29).” Having an experienced individual such as a woman, queer, black, and perhaps similar ideologies could have comforted Lorde during her battle against cancer. There were many things she wanted to say and ask the medical professionals or strangers from resource groups, but she remained silent due to the fear of judgment. In the way of rendering her voice, she tried to protect herself in the unknown territory such as the medical institution. Lorde had experienced racism in her life, and she knew medical racism would be no different. 

During her time in the hospital, Lorde experienced medical racism. According to Mclemore, “women of color experience discrimination, racism and disrespect in healthcare encounters and that they believe this affects their health…” Medical racism is one aspect of systemic racism: “racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions (Institutional Racism).” If Lorde had the opportunity to receive guidance from a black woman or a queer womxn of color, she could have felt comfortable asking her genuine questions without feeling insecure with her true identity. This issue tends to happen countless times where women of color are unable to address their issues to the medical institutions due to the possibility of getting disregarded. Medical racism prevents queer/womxn of color from receiving the same quality of health care as heterosexual white men do. This has always existed with American society, disregarding women’s physical and mental health.

 By maintaining a diary, Lorde was able to find a safe space where she could rawly vent her experiences. Her experiences enlightened her audience on the mistreatment of certain individuals being treated in hospitals, specifically the mistreatment of queer women of color. There were no safe spaces in hospital environments where queer women of color felt comfortable being out and asking their questions. This was due to their fear of judgment and possible discrimination. However, Lorde’s journals have been impactful for individuals needing guidance as someone who has gone through the stages of battling cancer. 

Throughout her life, Audre Lorde faced many challenges as a minority woman and a breast cancer survivor. In her literature, she mentions the idea of having a mentor or a role model she could reconcile with in regards to her past inexperienced self. After overcoming the obstacles life has thrown at her, Lorde discovered unorthodox methods to battle and survived the issues at hand. Thus the role model Lorde sought out when she was younger, she manifested and became a leader of guidance. The way Lorde conveys her poetry with unapologetic anger is the same fight that is rooted in her existence when she comes face to face with an obstacle, whether it be the patriarchy or breast cancer; she is a warrior.

Work Cited:

A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde. New York, NY: Third World Newsreel, 1996.

“Institutional Racism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Apr. 2020,

Lorde, Audre. The Cancer Journals. San Francisco :Aunt Lute Books, 1997.
Mclemore, Monica R., et al. “Health Care Experiences of Pregnant, Birthing and Postnatal Women of Color at Risk for Preterm Birth.” Social Science & Medicine, vol. 201, 2018, pp. 127–135., doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.02.013.

Mclemore, Monica R., et al. “Health Care Experiences of Pregnant, Birthing and Postnatal Women of Color at Risk for Preterm Birth.” Social Science & Medicine, vol. 201, 2018, pp. 127–135., doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.02.013.

Audre Lorde Teaches us to Survive Quarantine

What w­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ould Audre Lorde say about the state of our world right now? How would she feel about what our world is going through? Those are questions some of Lorde’s readers may be thinking, as we go through this global pandemic due to Covid-19. This global pandemic has forced people to unexpectantly change their everyday lifestyles and social distance themselves from loved ones during this uncertain time. For some people that can be troubling and can challenge their mental health. In this blog, I show how Lorde’s Zami offers crucial insights about the importance of community in order to survive social isolation. Lorde’s work shows us that having a network of people that we can rely on or share ideas and feelings is crucial in order to feel less lonely or sad during this time.

          Throughout the twentieth century, Lorde faced racism, sexism, and homophobia which threatened her life and her ability to survive. Lorde’s biomythagraphy Zami describes the racism that she faced from an early age. She states, “Supposedly, it was because we wouldn’t behave, but actually, it was because beneath the neat visor of the museum guards cap, she could see pale blue eyes staring at her and her children as if we were a bad smell, and this frighten her. This was a situation she can’t control” (12). She was judged for being black even though it was something that she completely couldn’t control. Lorde’s mother tried to shield her from the racism that she would face. Her mother couldn’t shield her completely though Lorde could see the looks on people’s faces. The looks on these people’s faces showed Lorde that she was different, but she didn’t know how until she was an adult. Lorde states “The overwhelming racism of so many of the faculty, including the ones upon whom I had my worst schoolgirl crushes. How little I settled for in the way of human contact, compared to what I was conscious of wanting” (82). Lorde could try all she wanted to prove her teachers wrong, but it wouldn’t work. Her teachers would always think that what she said in her work was not good, or not enough. Lorde had to push past their thoughts on her work though. She had to work hard and prove that she could do the work and that she would be good at it.

          Lorde throughout her life formed a community with women who she met through sharing her poetry. During Lorde’s time in high school, Lorde formed a community with someone women that she called the branded. Lorde writes “At the time, suffering was clearly what we did best. We became the branded because we learned how to make a virtue out of it” (82). Lorde had a lot in common with these because they all faced some sort of oppression. Lorde was able to express her feelings and thoughts with these women which ultimately helped her get through the pain of being oppressed and judged by other people. She states, “…I met young women my own age, Black and white, who spoke a language I could usually understand and reply within. I met girls with whom I could share feelings and dreams and ideas without fear. I found adults who tolerated my feelings and ideas without punishment for insolence, and even a few who respected and admired them” (82). Finding women that Lorde could talk to about her feelings and share her ideas about poetry with was vital for her survival because these women allowed Lorde to freely be herself. She could share any of her thoughts that she was having with these women without feeling judged. These women gave Lorde some sense of security because she was able to open about her feelings and the oppression that she had suffered.

          The current situation that our world is going through due to Covid-19 is not identical to the situations that Lorde encountered. The crisis we are living through can’t compare to the oppressions that Lorde faced, but Lorde’s ideas are important even today. Lorde has always stressed that having a community of people is important because it allows us to share our honest feelings or thoughts with people. In the time we are living in right now it is easy to feel isolated or sad, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Kwan writes, “I wasn’t, though, nor am I now. Coronavirus grief is already a vast, monstrous grief, its reach and breadth expanding daily. It’s also a collective grief, a worldwide loss that — physically isolated though many of us have to be — a lot of other people are, in one way or another, also mourning. I hope, in this extraordinarily difficult time, to be better than I’ve been at letting myself mourn. I’ll start at the beginning: This is hard. I hurt. If you’re hurting, too, you’re not alone” (The New York Times). It is important to remember that we are never alone because there is a large number of people all around the world that are all having to isolate themselves from loved ones. We all are also feeling sad or disconnected because of it. Lorde would want us to put ourselves out there and express our feelings to communities of people where we could openly share our feelings. She would also want us to share our feelings with people who can relate to us. Her work helps to remind us that there is hope out there.    

Lorde was an incredible poet and teacher. She faced a lot of oppression in her life that could have easily quick and let her oppressors win. She showed strength through her work. Today, strength is what Lorde would want is to have during this difficult time, even when we think there is no hope. The truth is there is always hope.

Works cited

Kwan, R. O. (2020, April 9). Trouble Focusing? Not Sleeping? You May Be Grieving. Retrieved May 1, 2020, from

Lorde, Audre. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Crossing Press. 

Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde and the Lesbian Art of Survival

Writing, Write, Person, Paperwork, Paper, Notebook
image by Free-Photos on pixabay

by Samantha Brigandi

Artists have always had a way of surviving the tests of time and encapsulating history. Like ancient cave paintings whispering stories of far distant ancestors, artists have the ability to connect us through time. Those who survived then created, and by doing so they taught others this art of survival. Audre Lorde, a black, lesbian, feminist, warrior poet and fellow lesbian poet Adrienne Rich worked side by side as teachers and friends to survive in an era of violence and erasure for queer women. Through poetry they captured the sentiment of isolation, the feelings of being erased from history, and the desire to survive felt by many lesbians in this era. In this blog post I will discuss the ways Lorde and Rich used poetry, writing, and teaching as methods of survival. I will discuss the impact of both women in feminist history and analyze the poetry they used to make that impact.  

            Audre Lorde was a black, feminist, lesbian, poet, warrior and teacher who grew up in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s. Lorde wrote poetry about the racism, sexism, and homophobia she experienced and later went on to write prose revolving around the same subjects. Beyond being a poet, Lorde was also a teacher at several New York universities and even took trips to Germany for teaching opportunities. She wrote poems like “A Litany for Survival,” “Power,” and “Coal” which explored the intersections of racism, sexism and homophobia that she experienced. Adrienne Rich, who also wrote and taught poetry in New York, had her own experiences with isolation as a lesbian in a deeply homophobic society. She expressed these feelings in her poem “Diving into the Wreck.” Beyond their poetry, both women recognized the importance of teaching. It was not enough just to capture these sentiments through poetry, but it was important to teach other women to imprint their experiences in history with writing. In an interview with Rich, Lorde said, “I know teaching is a survival technique. It is for me and I think it is in general; the only way real learning happens. Because I myself was learning something I needed to continue living” (Lorde, 88). That something Lorde needed to continue living could be boiled down to creating art of survival.   

            The conditions which Lorde and Rich were writing in were nothing short of crippling. Homophobia was deeply ingrained in American society and aided in the structural isolation of queer people. As Bonnie Morris writes, “it would not be until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as an “illness” classification in its diagnostic manual. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, gay men and lesbians continued to be at risk for psychiatric lockup as well as jail, losing jobs, and/or child custody when courts and clinics defined gay love as sick, criminal or immoral” (Morris). To be openly gay in America resulted in being ostracized or worse. This enforced isolation had drastic and sometimes destructive consequences.  

           So, what is a “lesbian survival artist” and why were they necessary? The desire to survive was felt by lesbians far and wide during the 1950s and 1960s and the sense of isolation was devastating for many. In an interview from A Litany for Survival, the documentary about Lorde’s life, she had this to say, “we lost a lot of women to isolation, to alcohol, to suicide, there were not enough of us. And we didn’t know a lot of things.” Here she remembers the lost lives of lesbians who did not survive. The harsh reality of being a lesbian during this era was that survival did not come easy, if at all for some. Lorde understood this deep need for survival because of the destruction that came about as a result of isolation. The result of this knowledge inspired poetry that revolved around the lesbian experience in a society where they were “never meant to survive.” This poetry provided a space that previously did not exist for lesbians in the realm of poetry. Reflecting on Lorde’s lesbian love poem “Pirouette,” Adrienne Rich noted, “it’s very much the kind of lesbian love poem that people were writing in the 50s. Because there was no space for overtly lesbian love poetry, or overtly lesbian poetry of any kind” (Lorde, 1995). This absence of space for lesbian artists contributed to the deeper sense of isolation and loneliness. Lorde and Rich used poetry to bring light to this issue and in essence, provide ground for future lesbian artists to stand on.

           In Lorde’s poem “A Litany for Survival” she addresses the themes of loneliness, fear and desire for survival felt by the lesbian community. As the title of the poem makes clear, survival is at the forefront. As defined by the Oxford English dictionary “survival” means: “continuing to live after some event (spec. of the soul after death); remaining alive, living on” (OED). Lorde in this poem is expressly referring to living on in a culture that was violently intolerant of differences, specifically in terms of race, gender and sexuality. The poem uses pronouns like “we” and “us” to establish a collective whole that can invite or disorient the reader. As Lorde writes, “For those of us who live at the shoreline // standing upon the constant edges of decision // crucial and alone” (Lorde, lines 1-3). It seems almost contradictory that, when referring to a collective “us”, there can still be a pervading feeling of loneliness. The painful truth lies in that contradiction however, because the gay community was not the united front we now recognize as the “LGBTQ+ community.” Feelings of loneliness pervaded for those who, as Lorde wrote, “love in doorways coming and going // in the hours between dawns” (Lorde, lines 6-7). The doorway imagery is reminiscent of the “in the closet” phrase, Lorde here is directly referring to queer tropes. This continued use of liminal spaces (shoreline, doorways, between dawns) reflects the way lesbian women were caught between the oppressions of sexism and homophobia.

image by Marc Coenen on pexels

           In her poem “Diving into the Wreck,” Rich provides a vivid visual of a diver exploring the mysterious depths she has heard tales of. As she writes in her opening lines, “First having read the book of myths, and loaded the camera” (Rich, lines 1-2). The book of myths could be seen as a direct metaphor for history or society that has been lost to time, only the remnants and stories remain. The presence of the camera suggests that she is looking to record evidence, perhaps as proof of the myths. She reminds us this is a solo mission at the end of the first stanza, “not like Cousteau with his// assiduous team// aboard the sun-flooded schooner// but here alone” (Rich, lines 8-12). The transition at the end of the poem is complicated when Rich addresses a “we” in the poem. Much like in Lorde’s “Litany for Survival” it forces the reader to question who “we” refers. It becomes very clear in the final lines of the poem as she writes, “the one who find our way// back to this scene// carrying a knife, a camera// a book of myths// in which// our names do not appear” (Rich, lines 90-95). The absence of the names echoes the harsh reality of erasure from history that the LGBT community faced. It was a mutual goal of both Lorde and Rich, to establish more than just myths of a lost civilization, but to capture the soul of artists both living and dead.

           Lorde and Rich will have their names forever remembered, beyond the book of myths, and still live on as lesbian survival artists. Their work in the lesbian literary world continues to be some of the most impactful contributions since Sappho herself. Like explorers discovering new land, Lorde and Rich stamped a flag in the sand and said “we are here, we have always been here, even if we were never meant to survive” and the impact of that declaration can still be felt today. Their teachings live on, their poems continue to inspire, and their lessons of survival remain as crucial today as they did decades ago.  In conclusion, Lorde and Rich wrote ground breaking poetry and taught other women to do the same and in doing so they created a Sapphic survival guide for artists and teachers. As the final lines of “A Litany for Survival” remind us, “it is better to speak // remembering //we were never meant to survive” (Lorde, lines 45-47). These two women demonstrated how important it was to speak and how that speech can become poetry, and that poetry can become the art of survival.

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. “A Litany for Survival.” 1978. Poetry Foundation, Accessed 10 April 2020.

Lorde, A., Griffin, A., Parkerson, M., Fisher, H., & Pieratos, K. (1995). A litany for survival : the life and work of Audre Lorde . New York, N.Y: Third World Newsreel.

Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider Essays and Speeches. Ten Speed Press, 2016.

Morris, Bonnie J. “History of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Social Movements.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association,

Rich, Adrienne. “Diving into the Wreck.” 1978. Poets, Accessed 10 April 2020.

“survival, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2020, Accessed 23 April 2020.

Audre Lorde’s Power of Connecting Communities

Throughout history there have been many important and impactful figures who have changed society and became a voice for the people. Monumental figures such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells are all names that come to mind when we think about African American movements. There are several African American women who contributed to movements towards African Americans and created a lasting impact, but tend to be overlooked, one being Audre Lorde. Lorde was an African American feminist who used her voice to speak out against the oppressions that she and those around her faced. Lorde was an activist for civil rights,women’s rights, and the rights of gays and lesbians, as well as a writer and poet. Her work mainly focused on feminism, and her identity as a black lesbian woman. Lorde sharded her experiences in order to spread awareness of the injustices and struggles that she and others faced. She did this not just through her writing, but also in her  teaching and educating. Lorde spread her story and knowledge to thousands, including people in the city of Berlin. In this blog post I will analyze works from Lorde such as “Berlin Is Hard on Colored Girls”, The Cancer Journals and Lorde’s contribution to Farbe Bekennen to show how Lorde used her injustices, oppressions, and traumas to join communities of women together.

Audre Lorde was one of the most influential figures of her time and still today, her powerful and brilliant writings and speeches defined and inspired the American feminist, lesbian, African-American, and Women of Color movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Lorde expanded her influence in 1984 when she traveled to Berlin. From 1984 to 1992 Lorde made several trips to Berlin, teaching and sharing her stories and legacy to German society (Wilder 1). While in Berlin, Lorde helped Germans to develop the Afro-German movement. Upon arriving, Lorde had noted that she should feel the racial tension that haunted the streets of the city. Lorde stated, “The city itself is very different from what I’d expected. It is lively and beautiful, but its past is never very far away, at least not for me. The silence about Jews is absolutely deafening, chilling” (Wilder 1). With World War II and the Holocaust in the not so distant past, people were fearful, especially people of color. Lorde encouraged Afro-Germans to form a community and be unapologetically themselves rather than be fearful of the injustices and oppressions they faced. While in Berlin Lorde held lectures and seminars, she believed that, “The words of these Black German women document their rejection of despair, of blindness, of silence. Once an oppression is expressed, it can be successfully fought” (Ayim 8). Using the information and stories of Afro-German women in Berlin, resulted in the creation of Farbe Bekennen. Farbe Bekennen is a book collectively written by Lorde and Afro-German women, Katharina Oguntoye, May Opitz, Dagmar. Schultz , Katharina, and Oguntoye, D. Schutz. With the help of Lorde, these women were able to come together to create a narrative to account for Germany’s African American history. The novel allowed for Afro-German women to share their stories of racism and oppression, creating a community of Afro-German women who shared the same stories of injustice. Farbe Bekennen was the first book that treated Afro-German as a national identity, following this in 1985 the Initiative Schwarze Deutsche was created. It was the first national organization of Afro-Germans still functioning as a support group for people of color in Germany today encouraging the collaboration of women and men (Hickmon). Lorde was able to help start the Afro-German identity movement and establish a community of Afro-German women that joined together to fight their oppressions. 

Not only did Lorde create communities of Afro-German women, she also documented what she experienced in Berlin. Lorde’s poem “Berlin Is Hard on Colored Girls” conveys that the racism and oppressions that women in Berlin were facing was the same racism women in America faced. It also embodies how she is able to connect and identify herself with Afro-Germans and women of color in Berlin. The poem begins with the line, “Perhaps a strange woman”(Lorde line 1). By starting the poem in this way, it is framed around this strange woman. Who is she? Why is she strange? Is she different? The poem suddenly becomes about identity and estrangement. Although the poem conveys her observations of Berlin, it is also about Lorde herself. She speaks out on her oppressions which allows others to feel that they are not alone. Lorde was able to do the same in Berlin. In doing so, she was able to help create the Afro-German identity movement. She was able to use her own struggles and connect with those around them. She created a voice for not only herself, but for those around her who needed someone such as Lorde to help right the injustices they were facing. Instead of letting the fear of World War II and racism divide them, Lorde helped Afro-German women create loving and supporting communities. 

In addition to forming communities of women in Berlin, she also formed communities of women by sharing her experiences with breast cancer. Throughout her journey with cancer, she documented her experiences in The Cancer Journals. These journals shared her experiences with her cancer but also talked about the way she was treated by doctors and nurses. The breast cancer took a toll on Lorde, she felt weakened and almost defeated. But, just as she does with every oppression, she used this to join communities of women together. By creating The Cancer Journals she was able to make others feel that they were not alone. Women who also had cancer are able to read about Lorde’s experiences and story. In the novel Lorde states, 

“I wanted to talk to a lesbian, to sit down and start from a common language, no matter how diverse. I wanted to share dyke-insight, so to speak. The call went out. Sonny and Karyn came to the house and the four of us shared our fears and our stories across age and color and place and difference and I will be forever grateful to Sonny and Karyn” (Lorde 49). 

Here, we see that Lorde and her friends are sharing their fears and stories. To Lorde this is the only way she finds comfort in her situation, it is the only way she can cope. What Lorde does here with her friends, is what she does in every situation. She tells her stories, listens to other people’s stories, and uses their struggles to join them together. She forms communities of women who all have the same oppressions, traumas, and injustices.

Lorde was an excellent writer, teacher, and poet who brought communities of women together. She was able to take injustices, traumas, oppressions, and struggles and turn them into something more, something powerful. In doing so, she was able to become a voice for numerous movements and groups of people. She used her experiences to bond with women from America to Berlin. Audre Lorde’s bonds created communities of women who were able to join together to create strength and support one another through their stories. 

Work Cited

Aiym, May. “Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out,” 1986. 

Farber, Paul. “I Cross Her Borders at Midnight.” Audre Lorde’s Transitional Legacies, edited by 

Stella Bolaki and Sabine Broeck, 2015, pp. 152-153.

Hickmon, Gabrielle. “What Audre Lorde Learned in Berlin About Afro-German Identity.” 

Literary Hub, 10 Dec. 2019.

Lorde, Audre. “Berlin Is Hard on Colored Girls,” 1986.

Lorde, Audre. The Cancer Journals. Aunt Lute Books. 1980. 

Wilder, Charly. “Audre Lorde’s Berlin,” The New York Times, 19 Jul. 2019.

“The Cancer Journals” as a Feminist Text

The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde: 9780143135203 ...

Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals is a piece of literature that sparked a revolution. In 1978, feminist writer Audre Lorde discovered a lump in her right breast, which later proved to be breast cancer. Immediately after her mastectomy, doctors encouraged her to wear a prosthetic breast to help her look more like a “woman” again. However, Lorde decided not to wear a prosthetic breast in order to display her warrior strength and to be representative of a member in the community of breast cancer survivors. Audre Lorde is a woman who has published countless works that gives a voice to marginalized groups and highlight issues of race, class, gender, and identity, having people recognize them in a new fashion. Audre Lorde’s identity is a crucial factor that influences her writing, teaching, and research. Lorde defines herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Lorde takes her identity and uses that as a platform to show her growth as a powerful woman who proudly advocates for humans like herself. Rather than keeping the insights of this journey buried in her personal journals, she decided to publish them in The Cancer Journals. Lorde’s The Cancer Journals gave readers an accessible piece of autobiography, medical research, and advice all in one as a clap back to the capitalistic society that pushes women to fit the mold they want.

During the 1970s, women with identities such as a black, lesbian, and feminist, had to stand up against a society that did not accept them. During this time, their beliefs were ignored and opposed by a patriarchal and racist society. A significant event that Lorde has survived through in her life is breast cancer. A reoccurring pairing theme that appears in Lorde’s writing is the saying “we were never meant to survive” (“A Litany for Survival”). Having a mastectomy done left Lorde with one breast. While society saw this as loss of a breast as the death of femininity, Lorde used it as an opportunity to critique these patriarchal attitudes towards women’s bodies. Medical staff challenged and shamed Lorde to insist upon her following their guidelines of “morale for the [breast surgeon’s] office.” In the hospital, Lorde experienced racism and sexism. Lorde navigated these damaging conditions by finding strength within herself to be liberated by her diagnosis. Lorde was searching for a community of people that would enlighten her as she spread her newly found knowledge based on this life experience.

In The Cancer Journals, Lorde reflected on how she noticed the doctors and nurses in the United States promote one specific way on how to deal with breast cancer- with a physical prosthesis after a necessary surgery. The journey to recovery is looked at as an opportunity to once look like a “woman” again. Lorde clarifies that “The emphasis on wearing a prosthesis is a way of avoiding having women come to terms with their own pain and loss, and therapy, with their own strength” (49). These journals are a perfect example of feminist text in how Lorde shares her liberating breast cancer journey while she didn’t let society instill her with materialistic and surface values regarding a women’s image. As Lorde viewed it, forcing women to wear a prosthetic breast was an act of sexism. Instead, Lorde used her experience to give women resources to create their own definition of healing after dealing with a massive life-defining experience such as cancer. The Cancer Journals started a movement, allowing women to be the divine feminist they can choose to be with the power of their voice. Audre gave the community of breast cancer survivors more options, helping survivors realize that cosmetic surgery is not their only option. Lorde brought awareness of how crucial mental and spiritual well-being matter, despite the cosmetic solutions presented to them.

Lorde emphasizes how the medical industry treats breast cancer as a cosmetic problem- as just the reconstruction of breasts. Lorde has concluded upon her doctor visits that there is an extreme “…emphasis upon the cosmetic after surgery reinforces this society’s stereotype of women, that we are only what we look or appear, so this is the only aspect of our existence we need to address” (57). This significant aspect of appearance angered Lorde until she was lost for words when facing nurses that told her it is best to put on the prosthesis instead of exercising the choice Lorde has as a woman and patient. While patriarchal society encouraged cancer survivors to hide their scars behind a prosthetic breast, Lorde chose not to wear one and to make her scars visible. Lorde saw how damaging the medical industry’s mentality and practices are to women around the world who deal with breast cancer too. Lorde knew that being able to create pleasure for one’s life is one of the most cherishable aspects of living. In order for women to create their own pleasure, it’s necessary that Lorde voiced her opinions and observations on how the medical industry does not give women all options available on how to continue with their journey of breast cancer. Lorde points out that medical professionals do not take into account emotions behind this life-changing news for a patient, and want to cover up the signs of illness rather than focus on recovering a patient with full mental health.

In many ways, Lorde harnesses the power her voice has and published a work that was controversial to the public, but revolutionary for women of all identities. Lorde embodies a feminist perspective: through her voicing her thoughts on paper and through platforms like her annual literary award for poetry, she can give back to communities that do not have all the freedom necessary to live the most pleasurable life. The Cancer Journals is a work of art in how it allows people living with breast cancer not further to be victims of a patriarchal, capitalistic society by giving readers the tools to stand up for themselves. Lorde exposes the medical field withholding knowledge from patients to women who have not received an explanation on all further diagnosis, treatments, procedures, and recovery options because it is a form of victimization on the medical professionals’ side. A loss of power, in which the just situation should have the ability to make an informed decision. Lorde writes, “For as we open ourselves more and more to the genuine conditions of our lives, women become less and less willing to tolerate those conditions unaltered, or to passively accept external and destructive controls over our lives and our identities” (58). Lorde gave the gift of accessibility of information on medical documents that were too complex for a typical citizen who hasn’t studied for their Ph.D., or not translated in the same language a woman needs when trying to study for the best option available for her breast cancer treatment. Lorde wanted to give all women the sense of empowerment by giving them the knowledge to not fall into the trap of forcing consumerism upon a patient.

One of Lorde’s goals for publishing her experience is for survivors to read this and think about how a community can be a saving force and a revolutionary one too. Society does not make it acceptable for women to have one breast after the mastectomy, continually telling them to cover up the scars so people could not tell what they have gone through. Lorde works to reverse these non-printed rules with The Cancer Journals by telling readers that the only option is not the one doctors provide, and that with scars comes courageous strength to face society as a breast cancer survivor.

In The Cancer Journals, Lorde gives her readers the tools to be their own advocate because of institutional sexism and racism involved. The emphasis is placed on the woman’s appearance and how treating cancer by a mastectomy ruins a women’s appearance and sexual appeal. Lorde exposes how even the nurses force so much pressure on women to wear the prosthetic breasts to look “normal” and shame you from being proud of being a survivor. Lorde explains, “By accepting the mask of prosthesis, one-breasted women proclaim ourselves as insufficient dependent upon pretense. We reinforce our own isolation and invisibility from each other, as well as the false complacency of a society which would rather not face the results of its own insanities” (61). What is discouraged in society is an internal reflective analysis of life around an individual, and this inner critical thinking could start a feminist revolution if all women noticed the pattern that Lorde lays out in her work. Lorde focuses on the true feelings of women, and what should empower them to be the best feminist activist for themselves and others. The Cancer Journals not only sparked a revolution on how feminist can rethink what it means to be a woman facing breast cancer in America, but played a part in exposing the medical industry on how it treats differences in identity so people can reject the surface level healing provided, and continue advocating for the best options available.

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. The Cancer Journals. , 1980. Print.

“A Litany for Survival”: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde. New York, NY: Third World Newsreel, 1996.

Facing One’s Fears

Audre Lorde’s the Cancer Journals is a text with many goals, it is a critique on the medical industry, a feminist text, and so much more. In her critiques on the medical industry she explains how it is an industry more focused on its profits on sick people than actual caring. She denounces her need to wear a prosthetic breast only to seem as though she is normal or feminine. When she is not ever to be normal again and she can be feminine with only one breast. She was proud of having only one breast as it showed her journey and struggle to survive. She was a beacon of revolution for queer and people of color that lacked representation in the medical environment and who lacked resources for medical help. Yet, there is one more important thing that her text is, a self-reflection of her pain and her struggle to find her peace with the possibility of death. Through her journal entries scattered throughout her critiques she gives readers an insight into her pain and her fight to find peace with her possible death. 

Within the introduction to her text Lorde speaks to how throughout her journey with cancer there was a “commonality” (10) between being in a state of isolation and “painful reassessment” (10). In dealing with cancer there is a loss of identifiable feature or appendage sometimes. To cope or deal a person must re-evaluate how they see themselves. Think of it as a puzzle where it is all a mess or pieces don’t fit. It must be re-assembled or even reconfigured into a new image. The cancer patient is doing the same, just with their identity and self-image. A hard task to take on. A person who has lived the majority of their life seeing and using an appendage or feature suddenly loses that piece. Their identity takes on a new meaning and they must come to grips with that. It can make someone feel as though they are less than or even non-human.

Living with her diagnosis Lorde speaks to how she feels as though her pain, “fills me like a puspocket and every touch threatens breech the taught membrane that keeps it from flowing through and poisoning my whole existence” (11). In analyzing this statement one can see how Lorde is focusing on her pain whether it be mental or physical. This statement gives the reader a sense of how she feels. There is an agony and despair in the tone of her words. In likening it to a “puspocket” (11) a reader can see how the pain she feels is being contained by nothing but a small, thin film. At any moment the membrane can break lending a sense of suspense and apprehension. The pus itself shows how the pain is a physical thing she feels. A viscous liquid that will cling to her if let free. Likening it to a poison is very apt description. Cancer is “abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body” (wikipedia). A poisoning of cells. Overall, her pain is toxic, a contaminating substance that she is barely containing. Her whole description lends itself to the self-reflection on how she is losing her hope or her hope for getting better which is unseen at this point. 

Lorde speaks to how she is growing cold but finds warmth in solidarity. “The gong in my brain of “malignant,” “malignant,” and the icy sensations of that frigid room, cut through the remnants of anesthesia like a firehouse trained on my brain” (27). A classmate of mine described this quote as Lorde describing, “…her own feelings of coldness she now feels inside herself” (Marian). In dealing with her pain she feels as though she is losing the warmth of life. As a body is slowly and progressively declining it slowly shuts down.  The body cannot give itself warmth, therefore cold. Even though Lorde feels as though she is slowly wasting away in the cold, she does find warmth with her friends. “And my friends, who flooded me with love and concern and appreciation and relief gave me so much energy that for those first 48 hours I really felt as if I was done with death and pain, and even loss, and that I had for some unknown reason been very very lucky” (37-38). Lorde found she could move past her pain and her focus on death by being with her close-knit community of women. Her friends were her anchor to life and they made sure she knew that by showering her with love and concern. 

Lorde voices her fears about pain and death through her writing which in turn lessens their destructive power. Lorde speaks to how she feared death and cancer. She, like every person who faces cancer, sees it as a formidable thing. Facing the fact that her very cells turn against her, her body decides it is done being a healthy vessel but a slowly declining husk, a shell of her former self. People always have stories about how after the diagnosis all these concerns and great fears spring up. Lorde states, “fears are most powerful when they are most powerful when they are not given voice…” (15). Lorde views her fears as having this immense control over her when she hides them. Lorde speaks to how she thinks she can turn her fears into something less traumatizing or scary by voicing her fears, “to live beyond fear by living through it, and in the process learning to turn fury at my own limitations into some more creative energy” (15). By putting her scaredness to paper she finds she can better face her diagnosis. 

Lorde remained strong in her battle through her solidarity with women and by letting her creativity guide her through her toughest times. Lorde was a revolutionary for queer, people of color, and all women. She was a woman who learned to face her fears of pain and death by channeling it into the writings of the Cancer Journals and into her critiques on the medical industry. She stood proudly before men and women of all races who judged her for having one breast and declining to wear a prosthetic. Stood proudly behind her beliefs and critiques. She, overall, faced down her fears and stayed strong. 

Works Cited

“Cancer.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 May 2020,, Audre. The Cancer Journals. 2nd ed., Aunt Lute Books, 1992.

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