Zami: a new spelling of my name | Audre Lorde

Although a linear account of her life in the traditional autobiography sense, it’s also very much about the women who made Audre Lorde what she was, from the start: her mother and her forebears, her sisters, high school friends, and lovers – a web of women’s lives with her at the centre. That sounds much more nurturing than it actually was; most of these relationships were fraught, with her mother especially, and the narrative is shot through with pain and loss.  

Let’s get the downsides out of the way first. First, she does rather over-share. It’s very ‘intimate’, let’s say, especially in terms of her puberty and sexual journey, which is all pretty sweaty. The narrative is uneven, lumpy, and overwritten at times. And it descends into a bit of mush of reminiscences of past loves towards the end, although the depiction of the girl bars of 1950s New York was memorable (and not so dissimilar to 1980s London in many ways, plus ca change). But her courage, sensuality and fuck-this attitude throughout her life’s journey are what lingers, so I’ll cut her some slack.     

I loved the sense of Audre unfurling, from someone who should have been nobody, a low-aspirationed clerical worker at best, growing into the majestic figure she became. From lonely, near-blind child born into poverty, to rebellious teenager who broke free of her family and their tiny world, to swaggering baby butch (aww), to activist / poet / lioness, finding her own voice and values and self-belief. She was never one to accept her place. But it meant a life of not fitting in: too free-spirited for her family, too clever at school, too black for the gay scene, too feminist for the socialists. So she had to do her own thing, and find her own path, and we are richer for it, thank the goddess for that. An interesting read rather than a great one.