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LORDE'S LEGACY New take on notions of Audre Lorde, 'warrior poet'
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2016-02-24

This article shared 6504 times since Wed Feb 24, 2016
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The postscript to Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy of Audre Lorde is entitled The Happening.

In it, Dr. Gloria I. Joseph, Ph.D.—activist, feminist, professor emerita of Massachusetts' Hampshire College and author of innumerable, internationally published essays—describes the morning of Nov. 17, 2012.

It was 20 years to the day that Audre Lorde—Joseph's beloved partner and one of the most powerful writers of the 20th century—ended her dauntless battle with cancer and moved on to "something else, the shape of which I have no idea. All I know is it's going to be something quite different."

Sitting in a front porch corner of Joseph's home reposed amidst the serenity of the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix, there had stood an undisturbed chest that Lorde had shipped down with the rest of her belongings when she moved to the island in 1986—a place in which she found her "spiritual home."

In The Happening, Joseph writes that, in amazement and bewilderment, she saw that "this box/chest—over five feet in length, fifteen inches in height and one deep had been moved twenty-eight inches from its original place and was facing in a different direction."

Not only that but "one side of the box/chest had been blown open, and I say blown because the side had been ripped open with a force that left the nails protruding from the side that was torn open, and materials from the insides of the box were scattered around the opening onto the tiles of the porch. It was obvious that a force from within had blown open that side!"

Neither Joseph nor her partner, Helga Emde, had touched the chest. Their dog, Remus, had made no alert to intruders during the night, so they called in first their nephew and architectural engineer who discovered that, rather than being dragged, the chest had been "lifted up and replaced. Additionally, the opening of the box was positioned directly in a line facing Audre's gravesite!"

They eventually called in Peter Stewart, whom Joseph describes as a "healer who deals specifically with energy in his practice."

At Lorde's gravesite, Stewart noted that, although the trees were still, there was a breeze. He asserted that Lorde had not only attained ascendancy but was sending Joseph a message.

Ultimately, Joseph believed "that Audre was telling me to get on with the business of completing the bio/anthology, so she can be at peace. Twenty years is long enough! Get the job done. Fulfill your promise you made to me to do my bio. There have been memorial celebrations; my ashes have been scattered worldwide; one major biography, award-winning films; conferences, audiotapes. Let the bio/anthology provide me with some peace. It's time to move on."

So Joseph got back to work completing an intimate and compellingly human portrait of Lorde via photography in personal mini-albums dotted through Joseph's own call-and-response narrative of "stories and memories, aided by Sonia Sanchez, Elizabeth Lorde, Angela Y. Davis, Jewelle Gomez, Assata Shakur and 50 other contributors."

Speaking with Windy City Times from the office at her home in St. Croix—where Wind is Spirit was forged and completed—Joseph recalled when it was set into motion.

"Audre and I had frequent conversations in terms of what she wanted to do, things she wanted to accomplish, where she wanted to travel to celebrate different holidays towards the end of her life," she said. "She would talk about getting it done in a certain amount of time and my response to her always was 'we have all the time in the world until we don't have any more.' She loved that phrase."

Time enough for the couple to talk about Lorde's biography and the way she envisioned it.

"She wanted to leave a story of who she was, her complexity and how hard she had tried with what she had," Joseph recalled. "She wasn't talking about enabling people to be their best, but showing them the way she did it. Quoting from her, 'It's not a question of following; it's like a poem. A poem doesn't tell you how to act and how to feel. It inspires something inside of you.' That's one of the things what she wanted her book to do. So I had that as a base."

But Joseph believed that one voice was simply not going to be enough to render even the most exhaustive biography of an individual as the whole story. "It stems from my belief that, in writing this book, one hand cannot clap," she said.

Indeed, as Joseph writes, "A biography can tell an engaging, riveting, alluring rendition of an individual's life. But at best, no matter how fascinating a character, it remains incomplete. Retelling an individual's life story is like trying to capture and describe a pregnant stream of water cascading over cliffs, rocks and pebbles. Beautiful to watch and captivating in its perpetual motion, but impossible to follow or describe the movement of each and every ripple, turbulence, irregular flow or flash of rainbows as it journeys through its determined path. So it is trying to capture and record a person's life in written words.

"I thought it would be a good idea to select a diverse group of people who knew Audre in different situations and their personal stories, their recollections etc. In that way, I could give the public a fuller picture of who she was. Many of the people didn't know each other but they had their impressions, their memories and there's a lot of commonalities running through them all."

Enthusiasm from people wishing to contribute to Wind is Spirit came in unabated floods.

"When people heard about it, they all volunteered. They all wanted to be a part of it. They all wanted to write something they knew about Audre even though some of them had only met her once," Joseph said. "That was fascinating to me—that all these people wanted to be a part of Audre's life. It was encouraging but a little bit bewildering that she had touched that many lives. When the stories started coming in, I could see that it was true. She did just that."

As she wrote her narrative and curated each of the various stories while enjoying every moment, Joseph felt Lorde's constant presence. It is an integral part of Joseph's spirituality.

"I don't see Audre's death as a loss," she said. "How can you lose things if you have a memory? The body is gone but the person isn't. Not just in thought but in actions, they are with me. When I was writing Reunion on the Glory Road, close friends who were spiritualists insisted that I had been channeling, that I was a medium for people like Malcom X. At times when I was writing, I could hear Malcolm. I could see him. It's a spiritual realm that I am in that forms my perception and view of life and people, the future, the world."

One of the things Joseph hopes to change with Wind is Spirit is a view of Lorde encapsulated in what Joseph termed "the seven words."

"Audre's been dead for over 20 years and those seven words that people keep saying—feminist, warrior, poet, survivor, sister, mother, lover. Thousands of women could fit that description and her life story has moved beyond that" Joseph said. "I wanted to propel Audre into the realm that she deserves—that of a sage, a philosopher and poetic genius."

However Joseph also succeeds in tearing away the mythology that Lorde never wanted in order to reveal the human being whose faults and strengths, failures and victories large and small are universally relatable. A great deal of that ability is owed not merely to Joseph's life with her but the island they lived on away from preconceptions and intellectual demagoguery.

"To a large extent, it was the St. Croix community that brought out the human being that Audre Lorde desired to be and was," Joseph said. "She didn't have to put on any airs. She could just be herself and people learned to love her and she loved them. You don't come in on a pedestal in St. Croix. You earn your acceptance into the community. That care and respect gave her a real sense of well-being and satisfaction. She could be who she was without having to be the great Audre Lorde poet. She wouldn't be judged as she was in the city and other places."

Ironically, the biography of Lorde's life would ultimately be judged and rejected by numerous publishers, some of whom pushed back on the book's heretical style to the traditional non-fiction narrative before finally finding a home with Villarosa Media. Regardless, Joseph had a promised to keep—one that Lorde was sure to remind her of during The Happening.

"There was no question about it," Joseph said. "I wrote this book. I felt it was valuable and if I had to self-publish it, I would. The [rejections] I was given told me these people just weren't ready for this book yet. The reasons were so ridiculous and bogus but I had to respect them. They wanted their publishing house to project a certain image and it's a shortcoming they have to live with. I can understand that people who want to sell books don't want to take a risk but there is no other life story that is so multifaceted, so boundary- crossing and so pioneering. That's who Audre is and that's what the book is."

The final product is one Joseph not only hopes moves beyond the "seven words" used to describe Lorde but achieves its own ascendancy within generations of readers and teachers of Lorde's work that will cause them to rethink their own preconceptions of her whether purely academic or wildly mythic.

"I don't want arrested development to happen with the younger generation in terms of who she was," Joseph said. "I would encourage them to see the universality of her work and her wisdom— something that can be used for generation after generation. Then they can move beyond twenty years ago and see her in an open light."

The Audre Lorde Berlin City Tour with many original photos, videos and audios is available here: www.audrelordeberlin.com .


This article shared 6504 times since Wed Feb 24, 2016
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