Audre Lorde; Feminist Poet Who Wrote of Discrimination

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

Audre Lorde, who carved from the complexities of her race and sexual preference a series of poems that challenged female stereotypes, has died after a 14-year battle with cancer, officials said Wednesday. She was 58.

Lorde, New York state’s poet laureate, died Tuesday at her home in the fashionable Judith’s Fancy section of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said Jimmie Corley Griffin, director of the Thomas-Hyll funeral home.

She had spent seven years on the island, where she was known by an African name, Gamba Adisa, which reflected her advocacy of pan-African issues.


Lorde, a black lesbian who had been married and had two children, was born in New York and graduated from Hunter College in 1959. She began working as a librarian in Mt. Vernon, a New York suburb, as she developed her writing style.

She wrote of racial discrimination in books of poetry and autobiography such as “Cables to Rage” (1970), “Coal” (1976), “The Black Unicorn” (1978) and “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name” (1983).

Her 1973 poetry collection, “From a Land Where Other People Live,” was nominated for a National Book Award.

In 1980, the militant feminist, whose drive for black female power dominated the best of her work, published “The Cancer Journals,” a chronicle of the first stages of her breast cancer.

“As a contributor to women’s literature, her influence was monumental,” said Karin Powis, a member of the collective that runs Judith’s Room, a feminist bookstore in New York’s Greenwich Village where Lorde gave readings.

Lorde was a member of the board of directors of the Feminist Press in New York City and had founded Women of Color Press.


She received honorary doctorates from Hunter, Oberlin and Haverford colleges. She won the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit in 1991 and an award from the American Library Assn. in 1981.