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A Burst of Light by Audre Lorde

Reflections of the revolutionary black lesbian poet as she battles cancer.

Stephanie Wong | 31 Jul 2018

A book image of A Burst of Light by Audre Lorde

Image credit: Act Build Change.

When I feel lost I turn to the Lorde.

This book will fundamentally nourish, guide and change your life. To give three takeaways from this book is unreasonable: Lorde bursts light onto every sentence.

Three Takeaways

  1. Break your silence
  2. Self and collective care is radical
  3. International solidarity will change the world

Speak your truth

Audre Lorde. Image credit: Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

Your silence will not protect you.

— Audre Lorde

From a young age, Lorde saw the power of finding voice in poetry. By fifteen she had her first poem published in Seventeen magazine and went on to be a poet who interrogated oppressions, feminism, motherhood and shared solidarity and voice to people of colour across the world.

Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself a Black woman warrior poet doing my work come to ask you, are you doing yours?

— Audre Lorde

Lorde calls on us to act. How are we breaking oppressive silences? What oppression are you swallowing, making your body sick? Spit them out. What do you need to say for your survival and the survival of others?


Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.

— Audre Lorde

To be successful in our work we must survive. Oppressors do not want us to. They work very hard to stop us from surviving. If we are to break our silences and call out oppression we need all our strength. It is a radical defiance to look after each other, to exist as our true selves and act despite oppression.

How do we organise around our differences, neither denying them nor blowing them out of proportion? We can not afford to waste each others energies in our common battle.

— Audre Lorde

It is about the collective and building solidarity across oceans. We experience oppression in different ways and some more a lot than others. Lorde shares her intentionality about building relationships of resistance with women of colour from across the world and African Diaspora. Lorde looks to us to see our differences, find our individual strengths and bring them together in our common battle against oppression.


Colour is the bottom line the world over, no matter how many other issues exist alongside it.

— Audre Lorde

If we are to build solidarity we must be honest about privilege. Lorde calls out white feminism and its hypocrisy. She also speaks on her sexuality, race and the additional lens it brings to feminism, activism and motherhood.

Feminism must be at the cutting edge of real social change if it is to survive as a movement in any particular country.

— Audre Lorde

Living with cancer

We all have to die at least once. Making that death useful would be winning for me. I wasnt supposed to exist anyway, not in any meaningful way in this fucked-up whiteboys world.

— Audre Lorde

In 1984, Lorde learned that her breast cancer had spread to her liver. Lorde shares how desperately she wants to live, to leave a legacy and how important (and terrifying) it is to speak about dying of cancer as a black lesbian woman.

Do not let me die a coward, mother. Nor forget how to sing. Nor forget song is a part of mourning as light is a part of sun.

— Audre Lorde

Lorde chose not to have surgery, choosing instead to go on living her life and purpose, exploring alternative treatments. Her lifelong struggles armed her with the strength to face her cancer. She would live another 8 big, beautiful powerful years sharing her words with people of colour across the world. Just before her death, she took the name Gamba Adisa in an African naming ceremony. It means Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known.

I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I am going to write fire until it comes out my ears, my eyes, my noseholes everywhere. Until its every breath I breathe. Im going to go out like a fucking meteor!

— Audre Lorde