audre lorde
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL - 1983: Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde lectures students at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Lorde was a Master Artist in Residence at the Central Florida arts center in 1983. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

LGBTQIA+ History Month Reads: Nonfiction

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name is a lyrically written story that will break your heart countless times before putting it back together again. Audre Lorde weaves together history, myth, and biography to create the biomythography of her life. In this new genre, she captures the pain of (not) being seen in a world that refuses to acknowledge or accept every part of you—even when you’re trying your hardest to be proud of those parts yourself. At the same time, Zami is an ode to the women who gave meaning to the power and strength Lorde would embrace as her own.

Lorde grew up in Harlem in the 1930s and 1940s and was born to Black West Indian parents. From a young age, she learns not only what difference looks like, but also what it feels like. Her earliest lesson comes from her mother, whose “difference was like the season or a cold day or a steamy night in June. It just was.” This line comes to both foreshadow and shape much of how Lorde learns to navigate her identity as a Black gay woman in America.

She isn’t aware of her Blackness until she enters school and realizes that, unfortunately, there is no “fair” for someone who doesn’t have white skin. Previously, her parents had gone to great lengths to shield her from the realities of racism—her mother lamented how “low class” folks would spit into the wind (at Lorde’s family). It doesn’t matter how smart she is in class; she’s never afforded the same opportunities. As a result, Lorde’s perception of her own personhood begins to change.

Zami Cover

Image via Amazon

By the time she reaches her high school years, her sense of alienation is rooted much deeper than her skin: “I came to believe that I was different from my white classmates, not because I was Black, but because I was me.” This feeling…it’s a punch to the deepest part of your heart, and, it underscores the importance of recognizing that intersectional experiences can’t be attributed to one aspect of someone’s identity. It’s not her Blackness or queerness or size or disability that makes her feel different—it’s everything that makes her Audre.

Lorde’s writing reads with the same poignancy and wonder of her poetry as she navigates this feeling of difference—and the forces that shape it—in her early adulthood. Her 20s bring questions of race, ability, class, family, gender, and sexuality. She learns what it means to love women, to be hurt by women, and ultimately to be a Black gay woman. In 1950s New York City, she also learns that “non-conventional people can be dangerous, even in the gay community.”

With every woman introduced, Lorde is further shaped into the writer, feminist, and activist our world is lucky enough to know through her collection of works. She comes into her difference in a way that’s not shrouded with shame: it’s beauty.

Feature Image via NBC News