Sister Outsider

Thoughts   Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde, The Crossing Press 1984, 190 pages.

MOTIVATION for READING:    This is another nonfiction choice for my participation in the Women Unbound Challenge.    I checked it out from the library.     I would also like to count this for the GLBT Challenge if I can.

WHAT’s it ABOUT:    Audre Lorde describes herself with this sentence:  “I am a Black, lesbian, feminist, warrior, poet, mother doing my work.”    This collection of essays and speeches span from the mid 197os to 1983.    I wanted to know what she was all about.   Per a suggestion of authors to read for this challenge;  I wanted to explore a feminist perspective that would possibly be quite unlike my own.      We are treated to bookends of travelogues to Russia and Grenada, instructed with a call to break the silence, allowed into letters and conversations, enlightened by her defense of poetry, given her look at motherhood, and challenged by/to more.

WHAT’s GOOD:   In exploring my own bias and expectations to Ms. Lorde based on her self-description, I admit that I wondered if I would encounter militancy and anger.     Militancy is defined as “combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, and typically favoring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods”  and no, I did not find this in Lorde’s writings.   Anger, yes.     Anger so vivid, grounded and controlled that I was blown away by Lorde’s powers of expressing herself, her point of view, her work.     I enjoyed most of these essays – they represent a variety of topics yet all show her exquisite skills in sharing her feelings and experiences.    I appreciated her strength and her lessons.   I learned a lot and I admire her talents.

I was curious how this idea of reading something quite different from my younger white heterosexual non-poet, non-mother perspective could influence my experience.   I was intrigued if I would struggle with ‘relatability’.    Of course, we do share a belief in women’s rights.   Yet, Ms. Lorde DOES explain why I can’t know her experience and why this isn’t the point.   The point is that we each have to agree to accept and understand that these differences exist and because of this not despite this, to hold onto the humanity of each other’s perspective, to respect and allow opportunity, rights and life – the embracing of the right to have each other’s experience free from limits, of negativity and submission and even being ignored.   One’s right to live a full whole life does not require a dismissal or diminishing of another’s right to a full whole life.    AND we do have to seek out and embrace these ‘other’ perspectives, to recognize the fight is bigger than our little circle of personal concerns.   It’s not enough to know how I can work to make the world better for me, just to fight for my own issues – but to fight for the best for everyone.     I can’t know her experience – I can’t put her shoes on.    But I can read and respect her right to what she so eloquently shares in these essays and I encourage you to, as well.

I imagine that if I had had the opportunity to meet her, she would be one of those amazing awe-inspiring talents who can really look at you and see your very soul.    Don’t you love knowing people who can do that?   I’ve met some but not many.   I bet Ms. Lorde was one of those strong soulful soul-inspiring sages.    


I am who I am, doing what I came to do, acting upon you like a drug or a chisel to remind you of your me-ness, as I discover you in myself.

The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.  It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized.  This is poetry as illumination , for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are – until the poem – nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.  That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.    [read the entire essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury” here.]

And where the words of women are crying to be heard, we must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives.  That we not hide behind the mockeries of separations that have been imposed upon us and which so often we accept as our own.  For instance, “I can’t possibly teach Black women’s writing – their experience is so different from mine.”  Yet how many years have you spent teaching Plato and Shakespeare and Proust?”


The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of these differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence.   And there are so many silences to be broken.

both from “Transformation of Silence“.

__  __  __  __

…, we still know that the power to kill is less than the power to create, for it produces an ending rather than the beginning of something new.

… as I learn my worth and genuine possibility, I refuse to settle for anything less than a rigorous pursuit of the possible in myself, at the same time making a distinction between what is possible and what the outside world drives me to do in order to prove I am human.   It means being able to recognize my successes, and to be tender with myself, even when I fail.

We must recognize and nurture the creative parts of each other without always understanding what will be created.

Above quotes from essay “Eye to Eye“.

__  __  __  __

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS of this book and the author:     The Eleventh Stack / Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh,   (did I miss yours?)


Copyright © 2010. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

16 thoughts on “Sister Outsider

  1. That seems like an extremely powerful book written by an intense woman. I could actually use a book like that right now as my last few reads haven’t been that transformative or awe-inspiring.

    1. I would not be surprised if you could get to many of the essays online. I recommend you click to the link I provided in that first quote: the one called Poetry is Not a Luxury – it’s concise, powerful.

  2. You have shared a wonderful perspective on what you read. The thing I love about books and reading is that we can always find a common ground there.

  3. Love this review, Care! I bought this book a few months ago and dipped in and out of it but I haven’t finished it yet. Your review makes me want to pick it up again.

    1. Thank you Vasilly. It’s a terrific book for dipping in and out of. I read it over the course of a few weeks and then spent dedicated focus time taking notes and skipping around, re-reading essays. I look forward to YOUR post on it.

  4. Oh, interesting! I am going to come back and read this in more detail after I finish reading “Ain’t I a Woman” with a friend. I think I would have more to say at that point.

  5. I’ve never read Audre Lord but I’ve heard a lot about her. Sounds like a very thought-provoking book. If you ever want to do a bookstore tour of Boston i can take you to the closest thing Boston has now to a feminist bookstore, the Lucy Parsons Center, where I’m sure you’ll find more of her work!

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