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Zami: A New Spelling of my Name (Penguin Modern Classics)

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If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive. A little black girl opens her eyes in 1930s Harlem. Around her, a heady swirl of passers-by, car horns, kerosene lamps, the stock market falling, fried bananas, tales of her parents' native Grenada. She trudges to public school along snowy sidewalks, and finds If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive. A little black girl opens her eyes in 1930s Harlem. Around her, a heady swirl of passers-by, car horns, kerosene lamps, the stock market falling, fried bananas, tales of her parents' native Grenada. She trudges to public school along snowy sidewalks, and finds she is tongue-tied, legally blind, left behind by her older sisters. On she stumbles through teenage hardships -- suicide, abortion, hunger, a Christmas spent alone -- until she emerges into happiness: an oasis of friendship in Washington Heights, an affair in a dirty factory in Connecticut, and, finally, a journey down to the heat of Mexico, discovering sex, tenderness, and suppers of hot tamales and cold milk. This is Audre Lorde's story. It is a rapturous, life-affirming tale of independence, love, work, strength, sexuality and change, rich with poetry and fierce emotional power.


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If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive. A little black girl opens her eyes in 1930s Harlem. Around her, a heady swirl of passers-by, car horns, kerosene lamps, the stock market falling, fried bananas, tales of her parents' native Grenada. She trudges to public school along snowy sidewalks, and finds If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive. A little black girl opens her eyes in 1930s Harlem. Around her, a heady swirl of passers-by, car horns, kerosene lamps, the stock market falling, fried bananas, tales of her parents' native Grenada. She trudges to public school along snowy sidewalks, and finds she is tongue-tied, legally blind, left behind by her older sisters. On she stumbles through teenage hardships -- suicide, abortion, hunger, a Christmas spent alone -- until she emerges into happiness: an oasis of friendship in Washington Heights, an affair in a dirty factory in Connecticut, and, finally, a journey down to the heat of Mexico, discovering sex, tenderness, and suppers of hot tamales and cold milk. This is Audre Lorde's story. It is a rapturous, life-affirming tale of independence, love, work, strength, sexuality and change, rich with poetry and fierce emotional power.

30 review for Zami: A New Spelling of my Name (Penguin Modern Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    mark monday

    in college, in the late 80s and early 90s, i discovered that i had two aunts. this is one (and this is another). aunt Audre intimidated me at first. she was a stern, moody, melancholy woman who had lived a life of so many ups and downs. but as i got to know her, her innate gentleness became clear. this was a woman with so much empathy and understanding for the people around her. this was a lady who had felt pain in her life and would be able to understand my pain as well. she told me stories of in college, in the late 80s and early 90s, i discovered that i had two aunts. this is one (and this is another). aunt Audre intimidated me at first. she was a stern, moody, melancholy woman who had lived a life of so many ups and downs. but as i got to know her, her innate gentleness became clear. this was a woman with so much empathy and understanding for the people around her. this was a lady who had felt pain in her life and would be able to understand my pain as well. she told me stories of that life and those stories were filled with poetry and passion. she told me about growing up in harlem; she told me what it felt like to be an outsider. she told me about her own weaknesses, her own cruelties, and how she was able to move past them and to forgive them, to forgive herself by understanding herself. she showed me how our lives are of our own creation, how our biography is our personal mythology is our own personal reality is our own personal way that we define ourselves in order to survive. she celebrated and she mourned and she deepened my spirit. i fucking love you, Audre Lorde! such a guiding influence.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    I did not know this was a book about love. More than anything, more than about New York City in the '50s, more than being Black and gay and poor and female in that uneasy time, more than about the sensuality of food and the precise pleasures of style, more than about hustle and poetry and Audre's fraught relationship with her mother and the longing for an unknown home, for Granada and Carriacou, it is about loving women. I must add that these things are not separable. I cannot in any kind of fait I did not know this was a book about love. More than anything, more than about New York City in the '50s, more than being Black and gay and poor and female in that uneasy time, more than about the sensuality of food and the precise pleasures of style, more than about hustle and poetry and Audre's fraught relationship with her mother and the longing for an unknown home, for Granada and Carriacou, it is about loving women. I must add that these things are not separable. I cannot in any kind of faith tease it out as a strand. Audre writes of loving women inside all these other shells and spaces and non-spaces, all these stiflings and terrors and sufferings, all these joys and expansions into self and glory. Loving women, unfolding into all these places of being, where it seems to Audre that lesbians are the only women talking to each other, supporting each other emotionally at all in the '50s. She and her friends and lovers invent the sisterhood the feminist movement obsessed about decades later. In one scene, Audre's mother hits her for not understanding racism, even though she has done her utmost to prevent her from knowing and understanding it, has made the topic of race taboo. Is she angry with the people who hurt her daughter or frustrated that she can't control the world to protect her? In any case, the punishment doesn't make sense, revealing the divisiveness of white supremacy, the power it has to restrict and shrink love. In this anthology Cupcakes And Kalashnikovs I read a vignette from Zami in which Audre aged 12 and her sisters and parents go to Washington to celebrate graduations from grade and high school. They go into an ice cream parlour and they are not served because they are black. Reading this episode in context, I can see that it is entirely toothless and for the anthology to include it as one of the woefully few items that deal with race now seems utterly reactionary. I think about the discomfort of the white server who told them she 'couldn't' serve them. This manifestation of legal racism was soon to be swept away, thanks to pressure of black activism. It seems to me that racially charged situations that makes whites feel embarrassed are good leverage, while aspects of racism that only benefit whites are more difficult to combat. The sections that deal with the hideously unsafe factory work Lorde and other black women and men did to survive indict the culture of racism far more incisively, as she herself points out, noting that being able to eat whatever she wants anywhere in Washington didn't seem that important in the context of her struggle to survive. There was an echo for me of bell hooks' essay 'Blood Works' in Art on My Mind: Visual Politics when Audre recalls stains on her pillow from nose bleeds being 'at least a sign of something living'. This appreciation belongs to an awareness of life's precariousness and preciousness inculcated by tragedy, and the will to live beyond survival. It's the loveliest book, honestly, it's so erotic, so beautiful, so warming and tender. Such words lead towards a sweeter way of being.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Shanna Hullaby

    My new favorite book. Lorde tells all the secrets I was too afraid to tell in language more eloquent than my dreams.

  4. 4 out of 5

    El

    I went into this book knowing very little about Audre Lorde other than she was a black, lesbian poet. I may have read some of her poetry back in college, but I am shocked Zami wasn't assigned reading at the time. My parents were not West Indian, I am not a lesbian, I didn't grow up in Harlem in the fifties, I wasn't alive during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I didn't have to leave the country because of McCarthyism (although I'd like to leave for not dissimilar reasons). And yet this book spoke to I went into this book knowing very little about Audre Lorde other than she was a black, lesbian poet. I may have read some of her poetry back in college, but I am shocked Zami wasn't assigned reading at the time. My parents were not West Indian, I am not a lesbian, I didn't grow up in Harlem in the fifties, I wasn't alive during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I didn't have to leave the country because of McCarthyism (although I'd like to leave for not dissimilar reasons). And yet this book spoke to me in a way that rarely happens - more than other books and authors that probably easily get lumped in with Lorde (Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, etc.). Lorde wrote about being an outsider. To read her experiences today probably doesn't mean a lot to many readers because a lot has changed in the world since Lorde was young (at least on paper - I argue things haven't changed much at all except no one likes to talk about it openly). But I have always been an outsider in my own way, and I could relate to Lorde's story even though we have very little in common. She knew that you could be an individual but also to be made up of every person we have shared a piece of our history with, for better or worse. There's a dreamy quality to Lorde's writing, more than just poetry (which is there because she was a poet), some repetition but in order to make a point. It's sort of like how as you get to know people and share stories, sometimes stories repeat themselves because that's just how it happens. There's no reason that it needs to be edited out - these are our lives, these are our stories, and they're important, especially if you want to really know someone. I'm totally fascinated by the term Lorde coined, "biomythography" - I read here that she was quoted to have said biomythography "has the elements of biography and history of myth. In other words, it’s fiction built from many sources. This is one way of expanding our vision." I could not love that statement more.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    “Maybe that is all any bravery is, a stronger fear of not being brave.” “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.” Lorde refers to this as a biomythography, which is a combination of biography, myth and history. Lorde says that the word Zami is a Carriacou word (Carriacou is a small island in the Caribbean where Lorde’s mother was born) which means women who work together as friends and lovers. This is, amongst other things, a book about love. I “Maybe that is all any bravery is, a stronger fear of not being brave.” “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.” Lorde refers to this as a biomythography, which is a combination of biography, myth and history. Lorde says that the word Zami is a Carriacou word (Carriacou is a small island in the Caribbean where Lorde’s mother was born) which means women who work together as friends and lovers. This is, amongst other things, a book about love. It follows Lorde’s formative years and takes us up to around 1960. There is a great deal about racism, being a lesbian in 1950s America, friendship and community and Lorde’s difficult relationship with her mother. “Images of women flaming like torches adorn and define the borders of my journey, stand like dykes between me and the chaos. It is the images of women, kind and cruel, that lead me home.” This is not an easy read and repays time and careful reading. It is a great book, one that really should be much more widely known, especially here in the UK. Lorde expresses herself very well: “I remember how being young and Black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell. There were no mothers, no sisters, no heroes. We had to do it alone, like our sister Amazons, the riders on the loneliest outposts of the Kingdom of Dahomey. We, young and Black and fine and gay, sweated out our first heartbreaks with no school nor office chums to share that confidence over lunch hour. Just as there were no rings to make tangible the reason for our happy secret smiles, there were no names nor reason given or shared for the tears that messed up the lab reports or the library bills. We were good listeners, and never asked for double dates, but didn’t we know the rules? Why did we always seems to think friendships between women were important enough to care about? Always we moved in a necessary remoteness that made “What did you do this weekend?” seem like an impertinent question. We discovered and explored our attention to women alone, sometimes in secret, sometimes in defiance, sometimes in little pockets that almost touched (“Why are those little Black girls always either whispering together or fighting?”) but always alone, against a greater aloneness. We did it cold turkey, and although it resulted in some pretty imaginative tough women when we survived, too many of us did not survive at all.” Lorde writes very well and has the ability to sum things up in a rather pithy way, as she sums up the 1950s: "The Rosenbergs had been executed, the transistor radio had been invented, and frontal lobotomy was the standard solution for persistent deviation." Lorde writes about her lived experience of marginalisation and she really is a pioneer. One of my favourite reads.

  6. 5 out of 5

    K

    Audre Lorde's writing makes me feel seen. She knew what it was like to argue with your mother, adjust to your body, learn your worth despite being around white people. She knew how strange and awkward growing up was, to have dreams that didn't make sense to other people. She knew how to build a community of queer and dramatic and loving and smart friends, she knew how to write about the younger versions of herself with love and care. She knew what it meant to be Black, to be in between, but most Audre Lorde's writing makes me feel seen. She knew what it was like to argue with your mother, adjust to your body, learn your worth despite being around white people. She knew how strange and awkward growing up was, to have dreams that didn't make sense to other people. She knew how to build a community of queer and dramatic and loving and smart friends, she knew how to write about the younger versions of herself with love and care. She knew what it meant to be Black, to be in between, but most importantly Audre knew what it felt like to love women, and to love them deeply. She captured these feelings in one of the best books that I have ever read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    My second time reading this, the first being many years ago as an undergrad, has reinforced my love for this book, and my love for Lorde herself, her prose, poetry and essays (all of which you should go check out). She is right about so much, and so much of what she says we desperately need to hear in these broken and divided times. These are not from this book, but I share them anyway: "Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, My second time reading this, the first being many years ago as an undergrad, has reinforced my love for this book, and my love for Lorde herself, her prose, poetry and essays (all of which you should go check out). She is right about so much, and so much of what she says we desperately need to hear in these broken and divided times. These are not from this book, but I share them anyway: "Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing." "Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference—those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older—know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support. " "I am a bleak heroism of words that refuse to be buried alive with the liars." I think it would not be hyperbolic to say that reading this linked piece by her at the age of about 19 completely changed me and my view of the world: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defco...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    Audre Lorde's beatiful autobiography of her child- and early-adulthood. She's been prized for her "sensuality" in writing but this is no chicklit - her account of the lesbian bar scene in 1950's America will fascinate anyone interested in these forgotten pockets of culture. After reading it, what most amazed me about her was her unpretensiousness and her willingness to expose herself completely. Few writers have been so insightful when talking about themselves. Audre Lorde's beatiful autobiography of her child- and early-adulthood. She's been prized for her "sensuality" in writing but this is no chicklit - her account of the lesbian bar scene in 1950's America will fascinate anyone interested in these forgotten pockets of culture. After reading it, what most amazed me about her was her unpretensiousness and her willingness to expose herself completely. Few writers have been so insightful when talking about themselves.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Holly Dunn

    Very easy five star rating. This is phenomenal. The language is beautiful and the exploration of her identity as black, female and lesbian is fascinating. Seriously, go and read it. It will make your heart sing.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nada Elshabrawy

    This is a book that should be read as a manifesto annually.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    I’ve never read a memoir where I’ve felt intimidated by and not cool enough to be friends with the writer. Audre Lorde is that cool! Even though it’s an honest and beautiful memoir, it did strike me that she’s a different and more brave kind of person than I could ever be.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Inderjit Sanghera

    The nacreous lustre of New York blazes forth from the imagination of Lorde; a kaleidoscope of colours and cultures, from 1930's Harlem and the feeling or repression, desperation and poverty mixed with hope for a new future, to the bohemian 1950's Village; "Later, I came to love the way the plants filtered the Southern exposure sun through the moon. Light hit the opposite wall at a point about six inches above the thirty-gallon fish tank that murmured softly, like a quiet jewel, standing on its wr The nacreous lustre of New York blazes forth from the imagination of Lorde; a kaleidoscope of colours and cultures, from 1930's Harlem and the feeling or repression, desperation and poverty mixed with hope for a new future, to the bohemian 1950's Village; "Later, I came to love the way the plants filtered the Southern exposure sun through the moon. Light hit the opposite wall at a point about six inches above the thirty-gallon fish tank that murmured softly, like a quiet jewel, standing on its wrought iron legs, glowing and mysterious". Interspersed with the fleeting moments of beauty which Lorde captures is the feeling of alienation, of not belonging, of being burdened by not just being black, but a woman and a lesbian-a triple load which weighs heavy on her. From her childhood, where she is forced to bear not just only the heavy oppression of her domineering mother, but also the prejudices of the school system, to her adulthood where she is forced to confront the limited life choices she has both in work and in her love life, Lorde is able to reach a sort of apotheosis via the women she describes during the novel, the emotions which they bring out her allow to to slowly and interminably reconnect with her own sense of humanity and identity;  "Every woman I have ever loved has left her print upon me, where I loved some invaluable piece of myself apart from me-so different that I had to stretch and grow in order to recognize her."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bri

    Erotic and full of tenderness, pain, determined love, and self-exploration, whatever the cost. More in depth RTC.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Danika at The Lesbrary

    I don't really feel qualified to review Audre Lorde's work, but here's my best attempt. Some of these passages are still depressingly timely: "Once we talked about how Black women had been committed without choice to waging our campaigns in the enemies' strongholds, too much and too often, and how our psychic landscapes had been plundered and wearied by those repeated battles and campaigns." I don't really feel qualified to review Audre Lorde's work, but here's my best attempt. Some of these passages are still depressingly timely: "Once we talked about how Black women had been committed without choice to waging our campaigns in the enemies' strongholds, too much and too often, and how our psychic landscapes had been plundered and wearied by those repeated battles and campaigns."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jiaqi

    Reading this aloud over discord, word by word, line by line, chapter by chapter, with Melissa (and also watching episodes of the 2018 Meteor Garden remake) was such a special and beautiful experience. With love to Miriam for gifting this to me for my birthday. There's not much I can say in this review! How can I encapsulate all the things it's made me feel and think about over these past few months, when it's inevitably going to shape the way I feel and think for years and years to come? I can o Reading this aloud over discord, word by word, line by line, chapter by chapter, with Melissa (and also watching episodes of the 2018 Meteor Garden remake) was such a special and beautiful experience. With love to Miriam for gifting this to me for my birthday. There's not much I can say in this review! How can I encapsulate all the things it's made me feel and think about over these past few months, when it's inevitably going to shape the way I feel and think for years and years to come? I can only say - thank you, thank you.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lesley

    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 Audre 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 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 Audre 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 prose 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. Sister outsider, indeed. 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.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sasha

    This was my second read of this book and I had forgotten so much from when I first read it like 4 or 5 years ago so it was all still very fresh! Homoerotic, homosocial, homosexual I love it!!! You can tell from her prose that she's a poet, her writing is just delicious. I loved reading about her experience as a young, Black lesbian in the 50s. Cannot wait to read everything else she's ever written. Crucial item on the lesbian required reading list! “Every woman I have ever loved has left her pri This was my second read of this book and I had forgotten so much from when I first read it like 4 or 5 years ago so it was all still very fresh! Homoerotic, homosocial, homosexual I love it!!! You can tell from her prose that she's a poet, her writing is just delicious. I loved reading about her experience as a young, Black lesbian in the 50s. Cannot wait to read everything else she's ever written. Crucial item on the lesbian required reading list! “Every woman I have ever loved has left her print upon me, where I loved some invaluable piece of myself apart from me-- so different that I had to stretch and grow in order to recognize her. And in that growing, we came to separation, that place where work begins. Another meeting.” fuck!!!!!!!

  18. 5 out of 5

    CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian

    Sadly I didn't love this as much as I thought I would, although parts of it I did love and there is some stunningly beautiful writing. Especially in the first half I had trouble emotionally connecting with the character Audre--I'm not sure if that was my state of mind or the writing style. I also wanted to know more about certain parts of Lorde's life (poetry, libraries) and less about her sex life (haha no judgment if your preferences are the other way around). I was disappointed to see her lab Sadly I didn't love this as much as I thought I would, although parts of it I did love and there is some stunningly beautiful writing. Especially in the first half I had trouble emotionally connecting with the character Audre--I'm not sure if that was my state of mind or the writing style. I also wanted to know more about certain parts of Lorde's life (poetry, libraries) and less about her sex life (haha no judgment if your preferences are the other way around). I was disappointed to see her label butch femme culture as inherently oppressive role playing and rolled my eyes at her statement saying she could tell who is a lesbian because she's never attracted to straight women. I can understand her having those thoughts at that time in her life, but it felt weird to have them presented uncritically by Lorde decades later. I can absolutely see how this is a queer classic and a Black lesbian classic specifically (meaning this book isn't for me anyway) but this unfortunately didn't always translate to an enjoyable reading experience for me. Still, I'm glad I read it. My favourite section was when she was in Mexico. I loved her descriptions of the place and culture!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kassie

    One of the most important books I’ve ever read. Being a Black queer woman raised in a West Indian household, I found myself nodding at nearly every page. Audre Lorde was truly a gift to the literary world and I feel so honored to be reading her words decades later. One of my favorite quotes: “In a paradoxical sense, once I accepted my position as different from the larger society as well as from any single sub-society - Black or gay - I felt I didn't have to try so hard. To be accepted. To look One of the most important books I’ve ever read. Being a Black queer woman raised in a West Indian household, I found myself nodding at nearly every page. Audre Lorde was truly a gift to the literary world and I feel so honored to be reading her words decades later. One of my favorite quotes: “In a paradoxical sense, once I accepted my position as different from the larger society as well as from any single sub-society - Black or gay - I felt I didn't have to try so hard. To be accepted. To look femme. To be straight. To look straight. To be proper. To look "nice.” To be liked. To be loved. To be approved. What I didn't realize was how much harder I had to try merely to stay alive, or rather, to stay human. How much stronger a person I became in that trying.” ...Omg what a WORD. It’s also wild how much has (and has not) changed in gay culture since the 50s! Reading Zami just made me want to read absolutely everything from her ever. What a gift.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alissa

    I've always felt a real affinity for the poetry of Lorde's writing, and somehow this was the only book of hers I could find at the library. Whoa. Absolutely beautiful, gripping language. The lyricism that transforms sex into love. The beauty of learning about yourself from the joy and pain of relationships. I would read this over and over again, bathe in these words and the honesty and the reality of this. This is also just a phenomenal cultural document, a portrait of queer life in the middle o I've always felt a real affinity for the poetry of Lorde's writing, and somehow this was the only book of hers I could find at the library. Whoa. Absolutely beautiful, gripping language. The lyricism that transforms sex into love. The beauty of learning about yourself from the joy and pain of relationships. I would read this over and over again, bathe in these words and the honesty and the reality of this. This is also just a phenomenal cultural document, a portrait of queer life in the middle of this century and the way the structures mirrored the greater social structures of the time (and don't they always?). Revolutionary, even now and maybe especially now.

  21. 5 out of 5

    saïd

    Audre Lorde describes bravery as "a stronger fear of not being brave." One of my favourite lines: There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives. Audre Lorde describes bravery as "a stronger fear of not being brave." One of my favourite lines: There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Spines

    If I could wrap myself in a book and hideout forever, I'd do so with this book. Mother Audre has the most gorgeous writing style. If I could wrap myself in a book and hideout forever, I'd do so with this book. Mother Audre has the most gorgeous writing style.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Scarpa

    I clearly stand alone in thinking this, and that's fine, but parts of this book were torture for me to get through. Especially in the latter half of the book, wherein Lorde invents 1000 different ways to say she loves a cavalcade of women who, by the end, I truly couldn't tell apart. I can appreciate the craft at work here, and that Lorde has a talent for language and is probably a great poet, but I just couldn't find a way to care about her life. I don't think her perspective is as unique as sh I clearly stand alone in thinking this, and that's fine, but parts of this book were torture for me to get through. Especially in the latter half of the book, wherein Lorde invents 1000 different ways to say she loves a cavalcade of women who, by the end, I truly couldn't tell apart. I can appreciate the craft at work here, and that Lorde has a talent for language and is probably a great poet, but I just couldn't find a way to care about her life. I don't think her perspective is as unique as she thinks it is, and I couldn't see a justification for about 50% of the excessive details of her minutiae. As the great Joy Behar says, "Who cares?"

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alexa

    This reads like a wonderful novel, engaging, enthralling, and compelling. I loved reading it! Her deft storytelling about what it meant to be Black, female and gay, to be an outsider in every way, was completely enthralling and yet beautiful in its interwoven political consciousness-raising. Her pain, her love, her glory, her otherness all scream from the page. And then her poetry winds its way cat-like in-between our legs as we are captivated by her life.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Audre Lorde coined the term "biomythography" to describe this book, and I didn't get what that meant until I read it. She combines prose, poetry, history, and myth in this ode to the women who shaped her throughout her life. The book is sensually written, and an absolute joy to read. Something about the way it is written left me continually reminding myself it is non-fiction. It is rare to find an autobiography with such a well-structured story and gorgeous writing. Audre Lorde coined the term "biomythography" to describe this book, and I didn't get what that meant until I read it. She combines prose, poetry, history, and myth in this ode to the women who shaped her throughout her life. The book is sensually written, and an absolute joy to read. Something about the way it is written left me continually reminding myself it is non-fiction. It is rare to find an autobiography with such a well-structured story and gorgeous writing.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Annaelle Clara

    Oh this book was beautiful. i don’t think i have the words to describe just how seen i felt while reading it. Lorde comes from a caribbean family, so although we grew up in different time periods, I was able to relate to the ways her family interacted w each other. I related to her understanding of her parents home as home, although she’s never been there. Lordes journey through her young adulthood and eventually embracing her Black queerness is one that will stay with me. This book was about lo Oh this book was beautiful. i don’t think i have the words to describe just how seen i felt while reading it. Lorde comes from a caribbean family, so although we grew up in different time periods, I was able to relate to the ways her family interacted w each other. I related to her understanding of her parents home as home, although she’s never been there. Lordes journey through her young adulthood and eventually embracing her Black queerness is one that will stay with me. This book was about love! and community! and being gay! and wow did I love how much Lorde loved. I saw the way she put her entire heart into her relationships. the way she trusted her queer circles, how she considered these people families. i love this book. and i’m so so happy i read it when i did. i’d recommend this book to everyone but specifically queer Black people people. thank u Audre Lorde for sharing your story.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Hafsah

    the best feminist text i've ever read. i genuinely think this should be required reading at schools. just wow. [ read for uni ] the best feminist text i've ever read. i genuinely think this should be required reading at schools. just wow. [ read for uni ]

  28. 5 out of 5

    Susanna Sturgis

    Being a feminist bookseller and a huge Audre Lorde fan, I read Zami for the first time as soon as it came out in 1982. Though Lorde was a masterful poet, it was her prose -- particularly Zami and the essays collected in Sister Outsider -- that challenged me most and took up permanent residence in my head. I reread her "biomythography" after Lorde died in 1992 but hadn't opened it since, though it had a permanent place on my bookshelves. Then I picked up a second copy at my town library's annual Being a feminist bookseller and a huge Audre Lorde fan, I read Zami for the first time as soon as it came out in 1982. Though Lorde was a masterful poet, it was her prose -- particularly Zami and the essays collected in Sister Outsider -- that challenged me most and took up permanent residence in my head. I reread her "biomythography" after Lorde died in 1992 but hadn't opened it since, though it had a permanent place on my bookshelves. Then I picked up a second copy at my town library's annual book sale, thinking to pass it on to someone who would appreciate it. But it called to me, as cherished books will, and I started rereading. So vivid are the players and the imagery in this book that whole scenes came back to me as though I'd only been gone a year or so. Sturdy little Audre, the third daughter of Grenadian immigrants in New York, was the puzzle and despair of Linda, her strong, no-nonsense mother. As Audre describes Linda's dilemma: "Being Black and foreign and female in New York City in the twenties and thirties was not simple, particularly when she was quite light enough to pass for white, but her children weren't." Linda knew the penalties for not following the unspoken rules, but little Audre was bent on making sense of the world on her own terms. As Audre gets older, her world expands to show us what New York of the 1940s looked like to a bright, observant black girl continually improvising ways to hold the black world and the girl world together in one body. Danger was everywhere and survival not guaranteed, as the tragedy of Gennie, Audre's "first true friend," makes clear. Through their exuberant adventures around the city a silence runs: Gennie knows what Audre and the reader do not, and Audre's efforts to make it better come to nothing. From high school Audre moves on to life on her own, outside her mother's reach but incorporating all her mother's resourcefulness and determination. The girl world of high school opens into the "gay-girl" world of 1950s New York. Here my rereading of Zami diverged from my earlier readings: in the 1980s I knew women who had their own stories of that world, but now, in 2016, it seems like a history on the verge of forgotten, submerged in the faux-unity of the "LGBT community." I'm more indebted than I realized then to these women who were determined to make their own way without falling into the either/or categories of the time. They helped make the radical and lesbian feminism of the 1960s and 1970s possible. The sequence in Zami that has remained most vivid in my mind since Audre Lorde's death from cancer in November 1992 is the one where she's a young woman working in a Connecticut electronics factory. Toxic materials are everywhere. Her job involved reading crystals with an X-ray machine. The machines had protective shields, but if you wanted to make quota, you couldn't take the time to flip the shields up and down for each crystal. So the women didn't. And Audre eventually developed the cancer that killed her at 58. Connection? I'll never stop believing that there was; of course there was. Race, class, sex, and sexuality come together in this book so seamlessly that it's easy to forget what a feat this was in the 1980s and still is today. And writing doesn't get much better than this.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Areeb Ahmad (Bankrupt_Bookworm)

    “Each one of us had been starved for love for so long that we wanted to believe that love, once found, was all-powerful. We wanted to believe that it could give word to my inchoate pain and rages; that it could enable them to face the world and get a job; that it could free our writings, cure racism, end homophobia and adolescent acne.” I am not going to lie and say that this was a perfect read for me, even though I really wish I could do that as I love Lorde. It's stylized as a biomythography—a “Each one of us had been starved for love for so long that we wanted to believe that love, once found, was all-powerful. We wanted to believe that it could give word to my inchoate pain and rages; that it could enable them to face the world and get a job; that it could free our writings, cure racism, end homophobia and adolescent acne.” I am not going to lie and say that this was a perfect read for me, even though I really wish I could do that as I love Lorde. It's stylized as a biomythography—a combination of history, myth, and biography so a hybrid genre. While it is marketed as fiction, it quite clearly occupies the territory of memoir/autofiction. The book is very chronological, beginning from her early childhood to middle-age in a steady progression, exhaustively detailed. It was a bit too autobiographical for me, a genre I have never enjoyed. So I struggled to sustain interest and it isn't a work I can call a gripping page-turner. That being said, it also isn't boring or bad in case my review so far has been suggesting it. Lorde is articulate & incisive, her thinking sword-sharp; I could quote her without end. "Zami" refers to "women who work together as friends and lovers", a term originating in Carriacou, a Grenadine island in the Caribbean, and the birthplace of Lorde's mother. The phrase encapsulates the book in its entirety, an ambitious project to chart the solidarity between the women in Lorde's life be it her mother, her sisters, childhood pals, friends from college, work colleagues, and lovers. An acute intersectional exploration of the female body and its desires, how women navigate the wide world and define themselves, it is mainly a book about love and its iterations, of making connections.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    "We're both going to make it because we're both too tough and crazy not to!" And we held each other and laughed and cried about what we had paid for that toughness, and how hard it was to explain to anyone who didn't already know it that soft and tough had to be one and the same for either to work at all, like our joy and the tears mingling on the one pillow beneath our heads.Have you played the privilege game? You all stand in a line, and the host asks you to step backwards if you've ever felt "We're both going to make it because we're both too tough and crazy not to!" And we held each other and laughed and cried about what we had paid for that toughness, and how hard it was to explain to anyone who didn't already know it that soft and tough had to be one and the same for either to work at all, like our joy and the tears mingling on the one pillow beneath our heads.Have you played the privilege game? You all stand in a line, and the host asks you to step backwards if you've ever felt unsafe walking alone at night. Or if you have ever been denied education because of your skin color, etc. Meanwhile you can step forward if you've never had to worry about being insulted in public by strangers, etc. Well, Audre Lorde is the one in the back of the room. She's poor, black, female, lesbian, and a poet! And she had to grow up in the 40s and 50s. But she came through and she's managed to keep that "soft" part of herself intact, that vulnerability that makes it all worth it in the end. This book was emotional and infuriating. I connected most with the first half, where she recounts her mother's Grenadian roots, accompanying her father at lunch, learning to read and write in a racist school surrounded by white kids, the loss of her best friend, her first period, and her abortion. In the second half, she's a teenager finding herself and grappling with her sexuality, she travels to Mexico, she has many failed relationships and she becomes stronger. She becomes a woman. Her voice is strong throughout, and her stories are full of rich, charming details.

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