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Audre Lorde Read by Camille Stennis

About the Episode

Born in Harlem in 1934 to a family of Caribbean immigrants, Audre Lorde grew up to become a Black feminist icon and celebrated American poet, writer, and activist. Best known for her works exploring her own multifaceted identity, Lorde both struggled with and embraced the differences that made her unique—and the ones that drew her to others. A poet and self-described “warrior,” Lorde created a space for herself in America by writing about her personal experiences and advocating for freedom for people of color, the LGBTQ community, women, and oppressed communities around the globe.

Get to Know Camille Stennis

Camille Stennis is an audio editor, music composer, and sound designer based out of Los Angeles, CA. She has a BFA in Music Production & Sound Design for Visual Media from the Academy of Art University, and has also interned at companies such as Jingle Punks, Unified Films, and was previously the Head of Production at Jam Street Media supporting various creative productions in podcasting, music publishing, and audio visuals. Currently, she works as an Audio Producer and Sound Designer for Rebel Girls. 

Camille is also a member of the LGBTQ+ community, living happily with her wife and dogs.

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Transcript

Once upon a time, there was a girl who dared to be loud, proud—and different. Her name was Audre.

<MUSIC CUE>

Audre grew up in Harlem, New York, in the 1930s and 40s. Cars and horse-drawn wagons criss-crossed the bustling streets, and around Audre were a babble of voices, accents, and colors.

Audre’s parents had immigrated to New York from their island home in the Caribbean, and Audre often felt like an outsider.

She was born legally blind and had to wear thick glasses. She didn’t speak until she was four—but when she did, she always had opinions. And when people asked her how she was, she answered them by reciting poetry!

But those weren’t the only things that made her stand out.

At her mostly white Catholic school, kids teased her for being Black. But among Black American kids, Audre felt out of place because her parents were from another country.

Audre was often lonely—and her books and writing were sometimes her only comfort.

As she secretly scribbled out her own poems late into the night, she was determined to harness the magical power of words.

SHOW INTRO

<THEME MUSIC>

I’m Camille Stennis. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.

A fairy tale podcast about the rebel women who inspire us. 

On this episode, Audre Lorde. World-famous poet, Black feminist activist, compassionate teacher, outspoken lesbian, and a tireless warrior for social justice.

<END THEME MUSIC>

FACING RACISM

Audre’s family faced racism every day—but they didn’t talk about it.


At that time, in New York City, Black people couldn’t stay at the same hotels as white people. They also often couldn’t eat at the same restaurants.

Once, Audre’s family traveled to Washington, DC, for the Fourth of July on a family vacation. 

As they wandered Washington’s streets and vast parks, Audre and her two sisters stared up at old buildings and giant monuments, the sun pressing into Audre’s skin.

As they walked back to their hotel, they stopped inside an ice cream parlor. Its white tiled walls gleamed at them, and they hopped up onto stools at the counter.

But the waitress said she couldn’t serve them.

Audre’s parents understood. It was because they were Black.

Audre was enraged. They hadn’t done anything wrong!

But no one else in her family seemed as mad as she was.

One day, she thought, she would speak up against those unfair things. Next time, she wouldn’t just walk away.

A VOICE OF HER OWN

Audre’s parents were very strict with her and her sisters. They couldn’t play out on the sidewalk like other kids—jumping rope or playing hopscotch. They couldn’t invite friends over. And they always had to be respectful and obedient.

But Audre had a mind and a voice of her own—and she used it. Her mother and father often yelled at her, and her mother sometimes hit her.

The older Audre got, the more miserable she became.

Finally, though, when she was in high school, she found a group of friends who—like her—loved poetry and were committed to being their outspoken selves.

This group of girls called themselves “The Branded.” 

They gathered before school in empty classrooms, reading the poetry they had written.

They practiced magic and summoned the spirits of poets past.

They cut classes to explore New York’s noisy streets.

With the support of these new friends, Audre wrote poem after poem.

Once, she even submitted one of her poems to the school magazine. When the editor rejected it, Audre didn’t get sad—she got angry.

She knew her poem was good. So she sent it out to other magazines.

One day, a thin envelope arrived in the mail. It was from Seventeen Magazine! They told her they would love to publish her poem.

So, in 1951, Audre published her first poem in a national magazine!

ON HER OWN

By the time Audre graduated high school, she was tired of her parents’ strict rules and her mother’s punishments.

So, after a huge fight with one of her sisters, Audre moved out of her family’s house and into an apartment with her friends.

In 1951, this was a bold move.

Most young women at that time lived with their parents until they were married. But Audre was ready to be independent now.

And honestly, Audre didn’t even know if she wanted to be married. Marriage seemed so… not for her at the time. She had dated boys, and she liked them well enough, but she wondered…

Because… she had crushes on girls, too. And she didn’t exactly know what that meant for her. 

But she wanted to find out.

A PLACE IN THE WORLD

Audre worked nights at a hospital. During the day, she studied at Hunter College. And whenever she could, she typed her poems out on her typewriter.

Audre was so busy. She worked so hard, she became exhausted and depressed.

She quit school and found a new job. She worked at doctor’s offices and in factories where machines whined and groaned. She even moved to Mexico for a while! 

Back in New York, she joined peace protests, went to gay bars, and marched for civil rights. Eventually, she went back to school and became a librarian.

With each move, Audre learned more about herself and the world. She found people who were like her—and who were very different from her.

And slowly, she began to find her place in the world—and she began to find her voice.

MARRIED LIFE

No matter what, Audre was determined to do life her own way. 

That included her relationships.

She described herself as a lesbian (a woman who is romantically attracted to other women), and she had many relationships with women. But she also sometimes dated men.

Audre also believed that people could be in love with more than one person at the same time—and have healthy relationships with them. So, Audre often had multiple romantic partners.

Then, in 1962, she married her friend Ed Rollins.

Ed was a lawyer—and a man, and white.

Audre’s friends couldn’t understand why she was marrying a man. 

And Ed’s family refused to come to the wedding because Audre was Black. 

Yet, Audre and Ed refused to conform to their friends’ and families’ expectations. They loved each other and were determined to make their marriage work.

RETURN TO POETRY

Soon, Audre’s life was filled with sleepless nights and the sounds of babies crying. Ed and Audre had two kids, and Audre’s life became all about motherhood.

By that time, Audre had published several poems in magazines and anthologies. One day, while Audre’s kids were still young, a student asked her for an interview. He had read some of her poems and was writing a paper about her work.

Audre’s heart glowed with pride.

Later, the student sent Audre a copy of his paper. Audre tore open the envelope, and as her eyes scanned his words, they filled with tears.

His paper made her sound like a has-been! Like she had given up on poetry to become a wife and a mother.

Audre was heartbroken—and furious.

She wasn’t a has-been—and she would prove it!

Immediately, she set up a new desk for herself in their bedroom—her own poetry corner. Ed agreed to take care of the kids for three hours each Sunday while Audre wrote.

Audre was writing again—and powerful words flowed from the tips of her fingers. 

She knew then she would never stop.

THE FIRST CITIES

Filled with new energy and hope, Audre sent out her poems to many magazines.

But she got rejection slip after rejection slip.

White male editors at mainstream publishers simply weren’t interested in—or didn’t understand—a Black woman’s poetry.

So Audre looked to different avenues. She published with feminist magazines and Black newspapers.

Then, one day, Audre got a call that changed her life.

One of Audre’s friends from The Branded was now working at a small publisher. She asked Audre to submit a book for her to publish.

Audre did, and in 1968, Audre published her first book of poems called The First Cities.

Audre was thrilled.

But just as Audre’s career was taking off, trouble was brewing at home.

NEW LOVES

Ed and Audre still loved each other—and their kids. But for years, they had been growing apart. So, in the 1970s, they separated and divorced.

Audre found new love with a woman named Frances Clayton. Soon, Audre and Frances moved into a house on Staten Island with Audre’s two kids.

The neighbors were not always kind to Audre and Frances. Audre was Black and Frances was white—and interracial couples were still discriminated against.

Also, they were lesbians—and many people still thought women shouldn’t be in romantic relationships together.

But despite these hardships, Audre and Frances continued to love each other year after year while making a new and different kind of family.

LOVE POEM

In the years that followed, Audre published another book and more poems, and soon, people were asking her to read and speak at events and conferences. She published essays and spoke at civil rights protests. Eventually, she became a college professor, teaching English and creative writing.

Sometimes, Audre got frustrated with the publishing industry. 

One publisher said he would publish her third book—but only if she removed a poem about being a lesbian.

Reluctantly, she agreed, and the book was published in 1973.

But Audre was tired of hiding who she was.

So, that same year, at a poetry reading in a small bookstore, Audre read the very poem the publisher had cut—and came out to the crowd as a proud lesbian.

Even though it was scary, Audre refused to be anyone but herself—and she wanted the whole world to know it.

1979 MARCH ON WASHINGTON

Audre’s outspokenness—and her poetry—catapulted her into the world’s spotlight. She published more and more, and won many awards. Her unique voice echoed around the world.

On October 14, 1979, Audre spoke at the First National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights—her largest audience yet. More than one hundred thousand people gathered at the nation’s capital to protest the oppression of LGBTQ+ people.

Audre took the stage and looked out over the “sea of people.”

She took a deep breath and began her speech.

“I am proud to raise my voice here this day as a Black, lesbian feminist committed to struggle for a world where all our children can grow free from the disease of racism, of sexism, of classism, and of homophobia. For those oppressions are inseparable,” Audre said. “For not one of us will be free until we are all free.”

The crowd erupted in applause.

LEGACY

Audre continued to write, publish, teach, and speak out against injustice across the globe. Eventually, she moved to the Caribbean—where her parents were from—and settled on an island called St. Croix. 

She lived there until 1992 – when – sadly – she passed away from cancer. 

Today, Audre’s powerful words continue to echo through the hearts and minds of all who read her work. Her essays are taught in college classrooms. Her poetry is recited at rallies.

 

She continues to challenge us, every day, to work to free all people from oppression—not just those who look or sound or act like us.

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