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Blacklight Home Page

An Interview with
Audre Lorde

“I get really bored with how much of an issue [interracial relationships] continues to be. But, on the other hand, I get bored with racism too and recognize that there are still many things to be said about a Black person and a White person loving each other in a racist society

By Joseph Beam

Audre LordeAudre Lorde is like a multi-faceted diamond. She is a mother, poet, novelist, publisher, socialist, feminist and Lesbian. Sharp. She cuts through the bramble of political correctness and does not hold her tongue. Reflective.

She shows not only where we are but where we wish to be. Brilliant. She does not obscure her vision with intellectual jargon but writes simply, yet eloquently.

Despite her rigorous schedule, I was able to reach her by phone at her Staten Island, New York home. What follows is most of our early morning conversation.

Beam: How do you manage to balance all the aspects of self: poet, Lesbian, mother, feminist, and so on? How do you nurture and attend to all those roles concurrently and still find time to read the newspaper and wash the dishes?

Lorde: Well, lots of times the dishes don't get washed. That's one of the problems. As Frances [her lover] and I always note, ruefully, everything we do nurtures everything else, as well as competes for time. It has to be like that or else I would just collapse under the weight. I think, for most of us, once we soften that categorizing sense that compartmentalizes us with the various lives we live, once we allow all our stuff to flow more freely, once I am who I am, a lot of energy is freed for the questions that arise rather than the roles to be played.

Beam: Are you going to continue with your story that you began in "Zami: A New Spelling of My Name?"

Lorde: Now that "Sister Outsider" is done I want to start on a second piece of fiction but it's not going to be "biomythography." I call Zami biomythography because it's made up of myth, history and biography, all the ways in which we perceive the world around us. I would like to do another piece of fiction dealing with a number of issues: Lesbian parenting, the 1960's, and interracial relationships in the Lesbian and Gay community. I'm being very vague about it because I'm not really sure how I'm going to construct that.

Beam: One issue I haven't seen you address in print is the interracial relationship in which you are involved. Interracial relationships seem, at different times, to be more or less of an issue in the Gay and Lesbian community.

Lorde: It's always and issue! I get really bored with how much of an issue it continues to be. But, on the other hand, I get bored with racism too and recognize that there are still many things to be said about a Black person and a White person loving each other in a racist society.

I've spoken about the relationship between Frances and me a little bit in the "Cancer Journals." More in "Sister Outsider," in a long article called "Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred and Anger." There's a long poem, "Outlines," in my new collection of poetry which looks at the evolution of Black and White women who do not love each other and the relationship between Black and White women who do love each other.

Beam: The literary establishment in America has a tendency to select and honor one Black writer per year. A couple of years ago it was Toni Morrison. Last year it was Alice Walker and, to a lesser extent, Gloria Naylor. Do you see this tendency, which has been employed for decades, as problematic?

Lorde: I think it has been employed for decades and it is problematic. I am very, very happy for Alice Walker. When I saw her picture on the cover of the New York Times Book Review I thought, "Well good for you Alice! I wish it had been me. But if it wasn't me, I'm really glad it's you." I really can't see a picture of a Black dyke on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. I would start to get real worried, saying the kinds of things I do, and knowing what I'm trying to do, if I did wind up on the cover of the Times Book Review.

I'd begin to ask myself what that meant as a Black Lesbian feminist committed to radical social change. But the Gay and Lesbian community contributes to this invisibility. What do you think it means when Lambda Rising, Washington D.C.'s Gay bookstore, that says it "celebrates the Gay experience," takes a full page ad in Blacklight and does not include one single title by a Black Lesbian? Should Barbara Smith, Pat Parker, Ann Shockley, Cheryl Clarke and others, laugh or cry?

It's not only the literary establishment that renders us invisible

Beam: Let's talk about your work with Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.

Lorde: I'm very excited about Kitchen Table. I think it's an important manifestation of what has to happen. We need to build our own institutions. When we create out of our experiences, as feminists of color, women of color, we have to develop those structures that will present and circulate our culture. We have to be able to publish those things that would not be published otherwise, or be available to the different communities of women of color. It's a struggle but that's why we exist, so that another generation of Lesbians of color will not have to invent themselves, or their history, all over again.

Beam: The difference that I noticed between "Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology" and "This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color" was the material in "Home Girls" seemed so much more accessible while "This Bridge" felt very intellectual.

Lorde: That's interesting because I feel "This Bridge" has that quality of accessibility, also. Many grassroots organizations and people who have used it seem to feel that way too. I think they are very different books because they come out of very different visions. "Home Girls" was originally a third world women's issue of "Conditions" magazine. Therefore it had, from its inception, a different, much broader focus than "This Bridge," which was conceived as a collection of writing by radical women of color. So they served different kinds of functions.

Beam: In the past couple of years Lesbians of color have formed presses and are being published by some of the major presses...

Lorde: What Lesbians of color are being published by some of the major publishers?

Beam: Norton has published your work as well as the Crossing Press. Perhaps they're not huge presses like Harper and Row...

Lorde: Norton is, that's true but that's one! Look at how many Black Lesbian writers there are whose names are not known. Why isn't Gloria Hull a household name because of the research she's done on women of the Harlem Renaissance? What about Pat Parker? She's a really powerful poet.

Norton is probably one of the finest poetry publishers in this country but I'm only one Black dyke and I'm greedy. I want more of us read and seen. Alice Walker is not a Lesbian. She has made very positive and sympathetic statements of "solidarity" with Lesbian sisters but she has made it perfectly clear that she is not a Lesbian and I think that's a real factor in her acceptability. (Read Alice Walker's response).

Beam: What words of inspiration, or advice, do you have for Gay men of color who have been silent? How do we begin to write about our experience?

Lorde: I'm not sure whether Black Gay men have been silent or whether they just don't have avenues for getting their work heard. That's one of the reasons why I'm really pleased to see the Blackheart Collective in New York and publications like Blacklight in Washington. These are important institutions that have to be developed as outlets of Black Gay writing.

However, Gay men of color need workshops and discussion groups as well as magazines. Art does not exist in a vacuum. There is the necessity for Gay men of color to examine the truths within their experience which can be shared and, at the same time, develop a vision of some future which those truths can actively help shape because this is the function of any art, to make us more who we wish to be.