The Fire Within: Celebrating the Life of Audre Lorde

By Charity Goodrow

On this day in 1932, Audre Lorde was born in Harlem to Caribbean immigrant parents Linda and Frederick Lorde. I often heard this lyrical name, Audre Lorde, in passing during my residencies at Goddard College’s Plainfield, VT campus. Many of my peers seemed deeply moved by her work as a poet, essayist and activist. It felt natural for me to include The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde in my studies since my work focused primarily on feminism and writing from the female experience.  

My goal this semester was to find my feminist voice. I hoped to build up the courage to translate my voice into a collection of personal essays, poetry, and fiction. I believe that certain people (in my case authors) reveal themselves to us during the exact time we are seeking guidance and inspiration. While studying Lorde’s collection of poetry, I developed a deep admiration for her. I quickly realized she possessed a fire within that blazed a trail for women around the world to express themselves. There’s no question, Lorde’s work ignited a fire within me that has illuminated my path as a writer.  

The poem in Lorde’s collection that inspired me most was “A Litany for Survival.”  While fear can be debilitating, this poem reminded me that silence is far more destructive; silence can destroy a person’s soul.  Audre Lorde once said, “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't.”  

As an aspiring writer, there have been times when my fear of rejection, judgment or being misunderstood has disrupted my creative process. Sometimes I feel as though I have so much to communicate to the world, but the powerful voice within me comes out as a whisper.  If you’ve ever had a dream where you try to scream and nothing comes out, then I’m sure you can relate to this feeling of being locked in by fear.  What I admire most about Audre Lorde is her ability to embrace fear.  As I read “A Litany for Survival,” first silently then aloud, I began to understand that fear is a basic human emotion that we all experience and if we welcome it as we do joy and happiness, let it pass through us, we can discover its origin, allowing us to move forward and reject the isolation of silence. 

The following lines have since taken up residence in my soul and I am forever grateful for Audre Lorde’s wisdom and honesty:

"when we are loved we are afraid

love will vanish

when we are alone we are afraid

love will never return

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid"

Lorde had an impressive career. She attended Hunter College, where she received her BA in literature and philosophy.  She also received an MLS from Columbia University. She worked as a librarian at Mount Vernon Public Library as well as Town School Library in New York City.  She had two children with Edwin Rollins and after their divorce, met her partner Frances Clayton while working as a writer in residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Lorde was a mother, poet, activist, and feminist who was involved in the civil rights movement as well as the Afro-German movement which inspired the documentary Audre Lorde - The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992. In 1968, Lorde’s first collection of poetry First Cities was published. Some of her most popular work includes Coal (1976), The Black Unicorn (1978), and The Cancer Journals (1980). Audre Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1978 and liver cancer in 1984. She passed away on November 17, 1992.

Today, we celebrate the life and important work of Audre Lorde. Let us be reminded that we all possess a fire deep within and sometimes all it takes is a little inspiration to ignite it.