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Celebrating Audre Lorde Way at Hunter College

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Audre Lorde Way at East 68th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City
Audre Lorde Way at East 68th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Audre Lorde, poet (New York State Poet Laureate 1991-92), activist, educator, feminist, and the subject of Dagmar Schultz’s up-close and personal documentary Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984-1992, was honoured on Tuesday, May 10, 2022 in an Audre Lorde Way street naming celebration at the corner of East 68th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City. The Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College and Hunter West are now on Audre Lorde Way.

Hunter College President Jennifer J Raab, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Clare Coss, Jacqueline Woodson and Jacqueline Nassy Brown
Hunter College President Jennifer J Raab, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Clare Coss, Jacqueline Woodson and Jacqueline Nassy Brown Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Hunter College President Jennifer J Raab, Blanche Wiesen Cook (historian and professor), Clare Coss (Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry), author Jacqueline Woodson, Hunter professors Jacqueline Nassy Brown and Melinda Goodman, NYC Council Member Keith Powers, the 2022 Roosevelt House Eva Kasten Grove scholars, and Spectrum News NY 1 anchor and correspondent Cheryl Wills addressed the enthusiastic audience ahead of the unveiling of Audre Lorde Way.

Here are excerpts from President Jennifer J Raab’s welcoming remarks from May 10 on Audre Lorde at the “alma mater of the great Audre Lorde, Hunter High School class of 1951, Hunter College Class of 1959, a Thomas Hunter Distinguished Professor and Faculty Member from 1981 to 1986.

“These brief highlights can’t begin to do justice to Audre Lorde’s vast resumé accomplishments or measure her enormous impact on the worlds of literature and activism in her own time and in the decades since her untimely death 30 years ago this fall. Today we gather to celebrate her brief life and her enormous work and to formally link her name to this school for all time to come by naming the crossroads of her beloved Hunter College and former home to her high school she attended on Lexington Avenue and 68th Street in her honour. Here’s our sign! [loud applause].

“We are in the very building where Hunter launched the Audre Lorde Women’s Poetry Center with Audre herself in the room where it happened, just upstairs on the fourth floor. We name this crossroads today and in doing so we signal special gratitude to a true Warrior Poet as she called herself.

Audre Lorde Way with Blanche Wiesen Cook, Clare Coss and Melinda Goodman
Audre Lorde Way with Blanche Wiesen Cook, Clare Coss and Melinda Goodman Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

“This self described Sister Outsider used her pen and her voice to articulate the struggle of the dispossessed and the underrepresented. People of colour, women, the LGBTQ community, and late in life, the cancer sufferers on whose behalf she fought, even as she fought to extend her own life.

“She was a librarian, a poet, an essayist, a teacher, an activist, a mother, a lesbian, a survivor. That’s how she wants us to know her. And in each role she was uncompromising, willing to risk danger to advance unpopular causes, eager to sacrifice her comfort for her beliefs. ‘I write for those women who do not speak’ she once said, ‘for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified.’ She was prolific, she was passionate and most of all she was unafraid.

“Born in Harlem in 1934 to Caribbean immigrant parents, she actually described her young self as inarticulate. Yet somehow she found her voice to strike at bigotry, racism, sexism, and homophobia and to celebrate unity and sisterhood. At Hunter High School, Audre found a place that she loved fiercely because it was one of the first schools she attended where her brilliance and creativity was not only valued but embraced and celebrated.

“Audre was frank and unafraid, even as a teenager. She boldly submitted a high school poem to Seventeen magazine and they printed it. Audre became a professional published poet at the age of 15. There would be no silencing her and she famously warned ‘Your silence will not protect you.’

A celebration of Audre Lorde Way at Hunter College
A celebration of Audre Lorde Way at Hunter College Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

“’It is not difference which immobilises us’ Audre Lorde kept emphasising, ‘but silence’. And no one could silence Audre Lorde. She demanded sisterhood and shared values, never wavering in her belief in the power of community. And what is most remarkable of all, her words seem utterly modern, as if she knew somehow that some of the struggles of her time would remain unresolved and urgent long after her passing.

“As this multi-generational tribute will show, Audre’s work is not only mesmerising, it remains relevant to our own challenges linking us across time, three decades after her death. Let’s all keep this fire burning, let us do the work, let’s evoke her courage, the courage of this warrior poet who famously said - and this is my favourite quote - ‘I am deliberate and afraid of nothing’.

“It is an honour for us here at Hunter College to honour her.”

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