CUNY Celebrates the Life and Work of Audre Lorde

An evening of performances, readings and speakers was held Thursday evening at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse Auditorium to celebrate a book release, memorial, birthday and, more particularly, pay homage to CUNY’s own faculty alumni and the late acclaimed poet, writer and social activist, Audre Lorde.

Professor Linda Villarosa, the journalism program director at City College of New York, hosted the event while Lorde’s closest friends, family and colleagues either performed, recollected memories of the late poet or read her work. A major aspect of the event was the book release of “The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy of Audre Lorde” by Dr. Gloria Joseph, a renowned scholar, activist, author and longtime partner of Lorde.

“We are beyond excited to launch our book today, on Audre’s birthday,” said Villarosa. “It was a labor of love, love and more love.” Villarosa recently launched Villarosa Media with her mother and sister to see more black­authored books released.

“Having Audre as CUNY faculty member makes me proud,” said Paloma Cruz, a sociology major at Hunter College. “Knowing that a woman of that capacity worked within our institution is an inspiration to all of those who attend any CUNY.”

The evening included tribal musical performances, video screenings and the retelling of the memories those close had of Lorde. Among those speaking was New York’s own first lady and wife of Mayor de Blasio, Chirlane McCray, who met Lorde in the late 1970s and recalled stories of attending salsa­soul­sisters meetings and speaking with the feminist press.

“So what I ask of you today, of myself and all of you, on behalf of Audre, is to listen to that little piece inside you that wants to be spoken,” said McClane. “And when you hear it, give it a voice.

Speak out about the tyrannies you witness. I couldn’t think of any better way to move through this world and honor the life and words of Audre Lorde.”

Ada Gay Griffin, student of Dr. Gloria Joseph at Amherst College, produced and co­directed the film, “A Litany for Survival,” which was an award winning context of Lorde’s life and work. A clip of the film was screened during the event.

“The gift imparted on me and other women and men was the gift of education by

revolutionaries,” said Griffin. “I’m glad there are other people who share the experience of putting together and trying to speak for Audre… But you know, the work must continue and so it does.”

The clip screening showed Lorde at her youngest and fiercest, as well as in the later years when succumbed to illness. One scene showed Lorde lecturing one of her students in a Hunter College classroom. In another clip, Lorde gave a public response to receiving the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poets and was named the State of New York’s poet from the years 1991 through 1993 by the state governor of New York.

“What does it mean that a black­lesbian­feminist­warrior­poet­mother is named the state poet of New York?” said Lorde. “It means that we live in a world full of the most intense contradictions. We must find ways to use the best we have of ourselves and of our work; to bridge those contradictions and to learn the lessons that those contradictions teach. And that’s the work of the poet within each one of us. To envision what has not yet been and to work with every fiber of who we are to make the reality pursuit of those visions irresistible.”

“I definitely am grateful to have a legend such as her play a part in CUNY history,” said Stephen Icaza, a women and gender studies major. “I had no context of her accomplishments or history, so I couldn’t appreciate the strides she made.”

The social activism of Audre Lorde is ringing to some truer than ever these days. While Lorde fought hard for gender equality and civil rights during previous decades, it can only raise curiosity as to where the warrior­poet­mother would fit if she was still around.

“At a time when young women are embracing feminism, and young black people are engaged in activism online, on campus and in the streets, they need the words of Audre Lorde more than ever,” said Villarosa. “Audre’s life and work offer a blueprint for young women and men as they figure out how to fight systems of oppression. I think her work is especially meaningful for college students, who read her poetry and essays in Women’s and Gender Studies and Black Studies courses all over the country and all over the world.”

The event concluded after many guests paid tribute to the late Lorde in their own unique way, including Dr. Gloria Joseph and even Lorde’s own daughter, Elizabeth Lorde­Rollins.

“The event was beautiful and described the kind of energy Professor Lorde emitted to people,” said Cruz. “Whether they were her colleagues, personal friends, students or just people touched by her writing. It reinforced that greatness never dies.”

In the words of Audre Lorde herself, “That ‘me’ that you’re talking about, you carry around inside yourselves. I’m trying to show you how to find that piece in yourselves because it exists. It is you. You have got to be able to touch that, to say the things, to invite, to court yourself. And you can do it for each other until you can do it for yourselves. Don’t mythologize me.”

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