My hero: Audre Lorde

Lorde was openly lesbian before the gay movement existed. Her wise words often seem eerily prescient, writes Jackie Kay in London’s Guardian.

Audre Lorde dropped the y from Audrey when she was still a child so she could be Audre Lorde. She liked the symmetry of the es at the end. She was born in New York City in 1934 to immigrants from Grenada. She didn’t talk till she was four and was so short-sighted she was legally blind. She wrote her first poem in eighth grade. The Black Unicorn, her most unified collection of poems, partly describes a tricky relationship with her mother. “My mother had two faces and a frying pot / where she cooked up her daughters / into girls … My mother had two faces / and a broken pot /where she hid out a perfect daughter /who was not me.”

Lorde was openly lesbian before the gay movement existed. Her wise words often seem eerily prescient. “Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time and the arena, and the manner of our revolutions, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing.” Back in the 70s and 80s Lorde’s was an important and singular voice: “I began to ask each time: ‘What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?’ Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, ‘disappeared’ or run off the road at night … our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered for ever.”

I first met Audre in 1984, when I was 22. She told me her grandfather had been Scottish, and that I didn’t need to choose between being Scottish and being black. “You can be both. You can call yourself an Afro Scot,” she said in her New York drawl. Lorde was Whitman-like in her refusal to be confined to single categories. She was large. She contained multitudes.

After her mastectomy, she chose not to have prosthesis, opting for asymmetry instead, and wore one dangling earring and one stud for unequal measure. From the little girl who loved those matching es, she’d come not exactly full circle but a revolution and a half.

For the original report go to

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