Raised by Caribbean immigrant parents in the 1930s depression-era Harlem, Audre Lorde (1934-1992) began expressing herself through poetry at a young age and published her first poem in Seventeen magazine in the 1950s.
As a young woman, Lorde was told she would “grow out of” her queerness. Instead, she went on to pen essays like “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House,” which provided a new intersectionality that resonated with the growing awareness about race, class, and gender and sexuality issues and became central to the liberation and cultural movements of the time.
Lorde is credited with creating a new genre of writing, biomythography, with “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name,” which married history, biography, and mythology. She also opened doors for other women with her breakthrough illness narrative, “The Cancer Journals,” which chronicled her experience facing breast cancer, a mastectomy, and her own mortality at a time when women’s struggles — especially those of Black, queer women — were largely undervalued. She also fostered the efforts of other Black feminist writers by co-founding a publishing imprint, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, in 1981.