35 Audre Lorde Quotes to Live By

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Following a prolonged battle with cancer, Audre Lorde passed away in 1992, leaving behind a body of work that’s still a cornerstone in any Women’s Studies 101 course. She was among the first to criticize the second-wave feminist movement for focusing almost exclusively on the experiences of white, heterosexual, middle-class women and to recognize the importance of acknowledging difference. Despite her heavy-hitting critical contributions, Lorde was also a poet who wielded an inspirational voice that was so accessible because it was suffused with anger and passion and love. Say what you want about the “all quotes and no context” Tumblr-ization of theory, but Audre Lorde is so good that her work still shines in encapsulated doses. Her words lack jargon and speak from the heart, but most importantly, they teach you how to be a person in this world. Lorde would have been 80 years old today, and you can only imagine the wisdom she’d have offered with 20-plus more years under her belt. Still, the advice she left us with is pretty damn brilliant.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — A Burst of Light: Essays

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”

“It is never easy to demand the most from ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society is to encourage excellence. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies.” — “Uses of the Erotic,” Sister Outsider

“Who I am is what fulfills me and what fulfills the vision I have of a world.” — Conversations with Audre Lorde

“You have to learn to love yourself before you can love me or accept my loving.” — “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Sister Outsider

“Your silence will not protect you.” — “The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action”

“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.” — Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

“The language by which we have been taught to dismiss ourselves and our feelings as suspect is the same language we use to dismiss and suspect each other.” — “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Sister Outsider

“Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat.” — Interview with Carla Hammond for Denver Quarterly 16.1 (1981)

“For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.” — “Uses of the Erotic,” Sister Outsider

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” — The Cancer Journals

“As we learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny, and to flourish within it, as we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule our lives and form our silences begin to lose their control over us.” — “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” Sister Outsider

“Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action.” — “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” Sister Outsider

“The strongest lesson I can teach my son is the same lesson I teach my daughter: how to be who he wishes to be for himself. And the best way I can do this is to be who I am and hope that he will learn from this not how to be me, which is not possible, but how to be himself. And this means how to move to that voice from within himself, rather than to those raucous, persuasive, or threatening voices from outside, pressuring him to be what the world wants him to be.” — “Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response,” Sister Outsider

“Our visions begin with our desires.” — Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” — “Uses of the Erotic,” Sister Outsider

“Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.”

“I will become strong, the best, excel in everything, become the very best because I don’t dare to be anything else.” — “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Sister Outsider

“In order to keep me available to myself, and able to concentrate my energies upon the challenges of those worlds through which I move, I must consider what my body means to me. I must also separate those external demands about how I look and feel to others, from what I really want for my own body, and how I feel to my selves.” — “Breast Cancer: Power vs. Prosthesis,” The Cancer Journals

“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.”

“You cannot, you cannot use someone else’s fire. You can only use your own. And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe that you have it.” — I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde

“Theorizing about self-worth is ineffective.” — “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Sister Outsider

“When we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense. For as we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like their only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within.” — “Uses of the Erotic,” Sister Outsider

“Change means growth, and growth can be painful.” — “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Sister Outsider

“When I live through pain without recognizing it, self-consciously, I rob myself of the power that can come from using that pain, the power to fuel some movement beyond it. I condemn myself to reliving that pain over and over and over whenever something close triggers it. And that is suffering, a seemingly inescapable cycle.” — “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Sister Outsider

“Each time you love, love as deeply as if it were forever.” — “For Each of You

“Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.” — “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Sister Outsider

“I can afford to look at myself directly, risk the pain of experiencing who I am not, and learn to savor the sweetness of who I am.” — “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Sister Outsider

“When I envision the future, I think of the world I crave for my daughters and my sons. It is thinking for survival of the species — thinking for life.” — “Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response,” Sister Outsider

“Every woman has a right to define her own desires, make her own choices.” — “Breast Cancer: Power vs. Prosthesis,” The Cancer Journals

“To acknowledge privilege is the first step in making it available for wider use. Each of us is blessed in some particular way, whether we recognize our blessings or not. And each one of us, somewhere in our lives, must clear a space within that blessing where she can call upon whatever resources are available to her in the name of something that must be done.” — A Burst of Light: Essays

“As we get in touch with the things that we feel are intolerable, in our lives, they become more and more intolerable. If we just once dealt with how much we hate most of what we do, there would be no holding us back from changing it. This is true with any kind of movement. This is the way in which the philosopher/Queen, the poet-warrior leads.” — Interview with Karla Hammond

“We cannot allow our fear of anger to deflect us nor seduce us into settling for anything less than the hard work of excavating honesty.” — “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” Sister Outsider

“To search for power within myself means I must be willing to move through being afraid to whatever lies beyond.” — “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Sister Outsider