Audre Lorde is such an influential writer in lesbian, black, and feminist (and black lesbian feminist) literature and theory that frankly I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t read anything by her. I decided to finally rectify that by picking up her work that I’d heard the most about, Sister Outsider. This was an interesting read for me, partly because it’s a book that I’ve read many quotations from and paraphrases of, and partly because it’s a book for a specific period (1980s america) and audience (primarily other black women) that I don’t share.
This was the first book that I read by Lorde, and after reading a few essays and especially the interview, I regretted not starting with her poetry. I think Audre Lorde is known more now for Sister Outsider and Zami than her poetry, but she really self-identifies as a poet, and discusses poetry as basically her first language. Her theory and prose is inspired by and rooted in her poetry, and although I planned to pick up Zami after this one, I think I’ll be backtracking and reading a collection of her poetry first to get a better grounding in her work.
Much of what Lorde discusses is recent events and current politics at the time she was writing. Some of this doesn’t completely translates, but some is horrifyingly still current, such as her referencing recent shootings of unarmed black men by police, which could easily have been written yesterday. Overall, even if the examples that she offers are not current, the ideas are still very much relevant today. Some of it I felt like I was muddling through, and I knew I would need to reread it to fully absorb. Some ideas stopped me in my tracks. As a white reader, not all of the strategies and topics were meant for me, but I think that any reader will find Sister Outsider enlightening, even if they’re not able to engage with every subject.
This was a great mix of ideas and tones. I liked reading Lorde’s journal entry and interview alongside sharply honed essays. It’s clear that Lorde is a poet: she crafts lines carefully and I found myself noting many quotes that I wanted to post on the Lesbrary tumblr or just to remember for myself. Like this one:
We had to metabolize such hatred that our cells have learned to live upon it because we had to, or die of it. Old King Mithridates learned to eat arsenic bit by bit and so outwitted his poisoners, but I’d have hated to kiss him upon his lips! Now we deny such hatred ever existed because we have learned to neutralize it through ourselves, and the catabolic process throws off waste products of fury even when we love.
If you’ve been inexplicably putting off reading Audre Lorde, I highly recommend you take this as your cue to pick up one of her books. Maybe start with some of her poetry, but either way, you’ll find a lot to consider in Sister Outsider.