It’s a good bet that Audre Lorde, as a student and teacher at Hunter College, stood for a moment at the intersection of 68th Street and Lexington. Today if she dallied for a moment there on the northwest corner and looked up she would see emblazoned on the street sign—Audre Lorde Way. Now, some 30 years after her death, an honor is bestowed on a woman who proclaimed and was described as “Black, lesbian, mother, and warrior poet.”
During the afternoon ceremony on Tuesday, May 10, inside the lobby of the college, President Jennifer Raab captured the essence of the school’s alumni, noting that her “brave avowals of independence and resistance continue to resonate with a new generation of students and readers.” And several students read sections of Lorde’s poem “There Is No Hierarchy of Oppression,” giving a youthful balance to the coterie of older participants, including NYC Councilman Keith Powers, himself a graduate of the school.
“I am very proud to have sponsored the co-naming of East 68th Street as Audre Lorde Way,” he said. In his estimation Lorde was “a trailblazing artist, activist, and feminist” and deserved recognition in the community where she studied, taught and built her legacy. That legacy was further burnished by words from NY1 anchor, reporter and author Cheryl Wills, who served as moderator, and such luminaries as author Jacqueline Woodson, whose publication of her 37th book coincided with the event; Blanche Wiesen Cooke and Clare Coss, who delivered greetings from the Lorde family; and Jacqueline Nassy Brown, who read from Lorde’s poem “Coal.”
She explained her long association with the poem and was once asked by Lorde to read it before an audience, with its closing stanza that read: “Love is a word another kind of open—As a diamond comes into a knot of flame/I am black because I come from the earth’s inside/Take my word for jewel in your open light.”
The poem, like the diamond, refracts a number of bright and dazzling possibilities, much like the corpus of writings Lorde completed and can be found in such publications as “Sister Outsider,” “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name,” ”A Burst of Light,” and the “Cancer Journals.” A glimpse of her impressive resume is highlighted by her attendance to Hunter High School (1951); Hunter College (1959); Thomas Hunter Distinguished Professor (1991-1992); Professor of English, Hunter College (1992-1996); New York State Poet Laureate (1991-1992); and American Book Award in 1989.
One of Lorde’s most riveting essays is included in her compendium, and it’s a reflection that endeared her with the revolutionary internationalists with her powerful indictment of South Africa’s Apartheid regime. “For no matter how liberal a commitment to human rights is mouthed in international circles by the U.S. government, we know it will not move beyond its investments in South Africa unless we make it unprofitable to invest there. For its economic divestment, not moral sanction, that South Africa fears most. No one will free us but ourselves, here nor there.
So our survivors are not separate, even though the terms under which we struggle differ. African Americans are bound to the struggle in South Africa by politics as well as by blood. As Malcolm X observed more than 20 years ago, a militant, free Africa is a necessity to the dignity of African American identity.”
This warrior poet, as several speakers noted, was not afraid to speak truth to power, and it is her enduring magnetism that continues to bring friends, scholars, and community activists such as Dr. Anthony Brown, Dr. Vanessa Valdes, Keisha Sutton-James, and Kathleen Warnock back in the streets again.