Date of Award

2000

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Author's Department

English

First Advisor

Olga Abella

Abstract

Audre Lorde, who named herself black, feminist, lesbian, mother, poet, and activist, was a pioneer for black lesbians everywhere. In her poetry and prose, Lorde challenged the myths and taboos associated with black women, lesbians, and feminists. Although her work focused on a broad range of topics that illuminated her many identities, she concentrated most heavily on issues of multiple oppression and its resulting fear and silence. In naming herself, Lorde urged others to do the same — to fight the self-imposed and socially-imposed silence surrounding triple oppression.

Countless women from the black community of writers have paid tribute to Lorde, both before and after her death, for aiding them in breaking the internal and external silences that stem from multiple oppression. Lorde has spoken to and incited many women from various backgrounds; however, her influence has extended most readily to the black lesbian community. Lorde's far-reaching impact is illustrated in the works of black lesbians Jewelle Gomez, Cheryl Clarke, and Kate Rushin. Inspired by Lorde's life and work, these women challenge through their poetry and prose the conflicts associated with triple oppression.

Although the style of writing that Gomez, Clarke, and Rushin employ is quite different from both that of Lorde's and each other's, the images and issues that they present are very similar. In her work, Jewelle Gomez tackles issues of multiple identities and both the threat and liberation of self-exposure. Cheryl Clarke, who echoes Lorde's message that speech is a powerful tool for liberation, follows Lorde in speaking about and reclaiming the lesbian erotic as a positive, life-giving force. And finally, Kate Rushin, while focusing on the conflicts of triple oppression, writes of the importance of community as a necessary means of support and validation.

In "Clearing a space for us," Rushin acknowledges the black lesbian community that Lorde has established for all black lesbians: "Audre made a space, cleared a space for us that has never existed before ... especially, she made a space for Black lesbians, a space that has never existed in the history of the world ... We've been blessed to have her imprint on our lives" (88). As evidenced by both their personal and political writing, Gomez, Clarke, and Rushin pay homage to Lorde for breaking ground for them, and thereby allowing them to embrace visibility and resist silence. In Gomez's, Clarke's, and Rushin's poetry and essays, the effects of Lorde's words and teaching can be seen and heard through their personal, emotional, and political exhalations. Even though Lorde has died, her words continue to live in these women's voices.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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