Cover image for Our dead behind us : poems
Our dead behind us : poems
Lorde, Audre.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, 1994.

Physical Description:
x, 75 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
Subject Term:
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Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3562.O75 O97 1986 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



As Marilyn Hacker has written, "Black, lesbian, mother, cancer survivor, urban woman: none of Lorde's selves has ever silenced the others; the counterpoint among them is often the material of her strongest poems."

Author Notes

An African American lesbian feminist critic and writer, Lorde was born in Harlem and educated at National University of Mexico, Hunter College, and Columbia University. She married in 1962 and divorced in 1970, after having two children. Lorde first came to critical attention with her poetry. Her first poem was published in Seventeen magazine while she was in high school; it had been rejected by her high school newspaper because it was "too romantic" (Lorde considered her "mature" poetry, which focuses on her lesbian relationships, to be romantic also). Other early poems were published in many different journals, many of them under the pseudonym Rey Domini. Her first volume of poetry, "The First Cities," was published in 1968. Lorde then quit her job as head librarian at a school in New York City in order to devote her time to teaching and writing. She was a professor of English at Hunter College from 1980 until her untimely death from cancer in 1992.

Although many of Lorde's poems are about love, many are about anger, particularly anger about racism, sexism, and homophobia in America. "The Brown Menace or Poem to the Survival of Roaches" likens African Americans to cockroaches---hated, feared, and poisoned by whites but survivors nevertheless. Other poems express a daughter's anger toward her mother; still others eschew anger for affirmation and inspiration, which are represented as coming from lesbian love and traditional African myths because, as Lorde has said, "the master's tools will not dismantle the master's house." Lorde is also well known for her prose. Her courageous account of her struggle with breast cancer and the mastectomy that she underwent is movingly chronicled in "The Cancer Journals" (1980), her first major prose publication. "Zami, a New Spelling of My Name" (1982) is, in Lorde's words, a "biomythography," combining history, biography, and myth. In "Zami," Lorde focuses on her developing lesbian identity and her response to racism in the white feminist and gay communities, and to sexism and homophobia in the African American community. Lorde's critical essays, collected in "Sister/Outsider" (1984) and "A Burst of Light "(1988), have been quite influential, particularly "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power," in which she discusses the relationship of poetry to politics and the erotic.

Lorde was the recipient of several grants---from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1968 and 1981 and from the Creative Artists Public Service in 1972---as well as the Borough of Manhattan President's Award for Literary Excellence in 1987. She was also nominated for the National Book Award for poetry in 1974 for her third volume of verse, "From a Land Where Other People Live"(1973).

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For some time now, Lorde's public persona has been as important as (if not greater than) her actual production. Black, lesbian, a savvy city dweller, mother, champion of the oppressed, she has been courageous in speaking her mind, in standing up as witness. In this new volume, she recounts sad and harrowing experiences in South Africa, her own struggle for liberation, her love for her partner, and other autobiographical information. The content, in short, is laudable; at least, if you agree with her. But the verse itself is more polemic or proclamation to the converted than particularly insightful or original stylistically as poetry. And dare one suggest it? there's more than a little of the disingenuous about her approach, which seems bent on instilling guilt in the reader as much as offering enlightenment. While this collection may well reinforce the feelings of Lorde's ardent followers and thus be in some demand in public libraries its rhetoric is getting rather old hat and, in any case, is much too easy. JP. 811'.54 [CIP] 85-29646

Library Journal Review

In these poems Lorde reveals a new maturity through language denser and richer than she has used previously. The anger she expresses comes from an awareness of sufferingboth current, as in a poem about Grenada (``Equal Opportunity''), and past, as in the poem ``This Urn Contains Earth from German Concentration Camps''but is balanced by a tenderness born of love (``Outlines,'' ``Mawu''). Though she rejects the romanticized past she once emphasized to speak of daily struggle in, for example, South Africa, the heart of the present volume lies in the poet's making peace with herself``one woman harvesting all I have ever been/ lights up my sky like stars''and letting go of ``what is not possible.'' Recommended. Joyce Nower, Academic Skills Ctr., San Diego State Univ. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This collection of 43 poems shows Lorde's continuing belief in enpowering love and women bonding, but it has a geographical breadth and emphasis on personal as well as social change. Powerful images like ``Afraid is a country with no exit visas'' and ``the agent of control is a white pencil that writes alone'' reenforce her opposition to racism, particularly apartheid, and hypocrisy. As she states, she writes these poems ``as a route map, as an artifact for survival.'' Lorde has been a published poet for almost 30 years and is most often associated with black feminism. By juxtaposing romantic love and contemporary violence, this collection comments on the modern world ironically; a graphically compelling cover illustrates its connection to protest and African ancestry. Appropriate for upper-division undergraduates.-D.S. Isaacs, Fordham University