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Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde

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The long-awaited first biography of the author of The Cancer Journals, an American icon of womanhood, poetry, African American arts, and survival.During her lifetime, Audre Lorde (1934-1992) created a mythic identity for herself that retains its vitality to this day. Alexis De Veaux demystifies Lorde's iconic status, charting her childhood in Harlem in the conservative household of Caribbean-immigrant parents; her early marriage to a white, gay man with whom she had two children; her emergence as an outspoken ...
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Overview

The long-awaited first biography of the author of The Cancer Journals, an American icon of womanhood, poetry, African American arts, and survival.During her lifetime, Audre Lorde (1934-1992) created a mythic identity for herself that retains its vitality to this day. Alexis De Veaux demystifies Lorde's iconic status, charting her childhood in Harlem in the conservative household of Caribbean-immigrant parents; her early marriage to a white, gay man with whom she had two children; her emergence as an outspoken black feminist lesbian poet; and her canonization as a seminal poet of American literature. Lorde's restless search for a spiritual home finally brought her to the island of St. Croix in 1986, where she died after a decade-long battle with breast cancer. Drawing on the private archives of the poet's estate, personal journals, and interviews with members of Lorde's family, friends, and lovers, De Veaux assesses the cultural legacy of a woman who personified the defining civil rights struggles of the twentieth century. This landmark biography pays homage to one of the most courageous, singular voices of American letters. 16 pages of photographs.


About the Author:
: Alexis De Veaux is chair of the women's studies department at the University of Buffalo (SUNY). She has written for Ms., Essence, and the Village Voice, among other publications.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This biography of Audre Lorde, the self-described "black, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet warrior" who died of metastasized breast cancer in 1992, at age 58, captures the complexities of a charismatic figure whose every personal move was indeed political. De Veaux, chair of the women's studies department at SUNY-Buffalo, draws from over 60 of Lorde's unpublished journals as well as testimony from friends and family, though she points out with academic caution in her introduction that this is only a "subjective" story. De Veaux divides her book between Lorde's "two lives," her emergence from a difficult Harlem childhood to a celebrated literary career and, later, her struggle with cancer. Born in 1934 to Caribbean immigrants, Lorde had a persistent, haunting feeling of being an outsider. An early interracial marriage to Ed Rollins brought two children, but Lorde came to find deeper satisfaction in lesbian love, embarking on a decades-long relationship with Frances Clayton and maintaining erotic friendships with activists and poets who informed and shaped her work. By the 1980s, Lorde's writings were internationally recognized, and she continued to articulate her ideas on race, sexuality and gender in groundbreaking ways, eventually bravely documenting her personal experience with breast cancer. This account does not include Lorde's final days, focusing instead on her working years. While De Veaux occasionally slips into academic-speak, she is a skilled biographer, pulling together the contradictory facts of Lorde's public and private personae with ease. Subjective it may be, but Warrior Poet is also a satisfying portrait of a brave life. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW. Agent, Charlotte Sheedy. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Lorde, who died of liver cancer at age 58 in 1992 after surviving breast cancer some years earlier, described herself as a black feminist lesbian poet, but she was much more. Not only did she assume multiple identities (e.g., mother, lecturer, librarian, and political activist), but in 1991 she became the first African American and first woman to be designated New York State Poet. In this revealing portrait, De Veaux (chair, women's studies, SUNY at Buffalo) leaves no stone unturned, revealing that Lorde was an angry woman who battled depression and was in psychoanalysis for quite some time. While she apparently loved white women, she also hated them, suspecting that many were racist. What's more, she dated a Jewish man before coming out as a lesbian and for seven years was married to a white gay man, a union that produced two children. After 17 years with her white partner, Lorde left her and moved to the home of an African American woman in St. Croix, where she spent the last six years of her life. Ultimately, this is a story of both survival and loss and a moving tribute to someone who considered herself an outsider but who achieved success as a highly regarded poet. Recommended for women's studies collections in academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/03.]-Ann Burns, "Library Journal" Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A welcome refresher course on the life of the poet, feminist, lesbian, and political progressive. Resilient, mean, and angry, ur-iconoclast Audre Lorde (1934-92), author of The Cancer Journals, was a force of nature with the power of a hurricane. This black lesbian was quick to point out the racism that ran through the feminist movement, and she didn't miss the fact that leftists didn't necessarily accept homosexuality. All her life, Lorde was very much an outsider, a fact that is important to her biography. She brought a volatile mix of sex, sisterhood, race, and Afro-Caribbean spiritualism-a "house of difference"-into the world of poetry, which was being tossed by its own transformations at that time. De Veaux (Women's Studies/SUNY Buffalo) digs fruitfully and urgently at Lorde's ability to express the power and potency of the erotic as energy for social change, an approach that could be overwhelming but was always worthy of attention. Though at times she writes of her subject's social personal, and sexual life in jarring academese ("Audre's intensified insistence that Ed communicate his innermost feelings was contradictory to his more traditional notions of masculinity, causing him to resist the feminization of his intimate self"), De Veaux also shows great dexterity in painting a very complicated character. Lorde had double standards when it came to commitments, she struggled against "deep suspicion" of other black lesbians, she possessed a subversive ability to disrupt both the hegemony of mainstream publishing and the anti-hegemony of white feminist lesbian publishing. Her biographer displays a clean grasp of her poetry's evolution as it moved from non-imitative to re-creational,encompassing African-based spiritualism and embracing the boundaries of identity while refusing to be confined by them. Perhaps a bit dry for so fiery a character, but the author proficiently succeeds in capturing both Lorde's importance and her complex personality. (16 pp. b&w photos) Agent: Charlotte Sheedy
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393019544
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/3/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 446
  • Product dimensions: 6.66 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 1.45 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction xi
Acknowledgments xv
Life 1
Part 1 "The Transformation of Silence ..." (1934-54) 3
Part 2 "Poetry Is Not a Luxury" (1954-69) 47
Part 3 "Uses of the Erotic ..." (1970-77) 109
Life 2
Part 1 "The Black Unicorn" (1978-83) 197
Part 2 "The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance" (1984-86) 333
Epilogue 363
Notes 369
Bibliography 425
Index 437
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2005

    Excellent Biography

    Despite the fact that this biography, maddeningly, left so many questions unanswered, I highly recommend it on many fronts, not least of which is getting ahold of, in such a convincing manner, the richness and complexity of what was an amazing life. Unlike, Alice Walker: A Life, which I bought and read at the same time, and was greatly disappointed by, this biography offers critical distance and a masterful handling of the complexity of the subject and ideas associated with the subject. Wonderful. Highly recommended.

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