“I am deliberate and afraid of nothing” — Audre Lorde (May 10, 2022)—Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab and New York City Council Member Keith Powers today officially named the campus crossroads—Lexington Avenue at 68th Street—as “Audre Lorde Way,” honoring the legendary poet, essayist, activist, and Hunter alumna. Lorde (1934-1992), a graduate of both Hunter High School (1951) and Hunter College (1959), went on to serve as Thomas Hunter Distinguished Professor (1981-82) and then as a member of the Hunter English Department faculty until 1986.
One of the most influential writers of the late 20th century, Lorde was a New York State Poet Laureate, a powerful prose writer, and a fierce activist. During her tragically abbreviated but impactful career, she deployed her “arsenal” of words on behalf of civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights, frequently elevating her sense of outrage into lyrical and hypnotic verse. In one of her most quoted lines, the self-described “Sister Outsider” memorably declared: “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing”—a credo the courageous Lorde demonstrated repeatedly in her 17 books and her lifelong battles for justice.
“It is a singular honor for Hunter College to commemorate one of its most distinguished and influential alumnae,” said President Raab at ceremonies inside Hunter West before the new street sign was unveiled outside on the West Plaza. “The ‘Warrior Poet’ Audre Lorde took on challenging causes and heroically battled racism, sexism, and homophobia with her breathtakingly original writing and her unrelenting advocacy. Describing herself as a ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,’ Lorde became the quintessential champion of antiracism and coalition building among
women. Her brave avowals of independence and resistance continue to resonate with new generations of students and readers. We are so proud to acknowledge her enduring presence at Hunter by consecrating our crossroads in her name.”
It's official! @Hunter_College's main campus now resides on Audre Lorde Way! TY to @KeithPowersNYC, @cherylwillsny1, @afprl chair Anthony Brown, Prof @jnassyb & all who joined us to honor Audre Lorde (HC '51, HCHS '59), whose literary & social justice legacy inspires us each day! pic.twitter.com/JSPjuQKYIn
— President Jennifer J. Raab (@HunterPresident) May 10, 2022
Stated Council Member Powers, who authored the resolution designating the street naming: “I am very proud to have sponsored the co-naming of East 68th Street as Audre Lorde Way. A trailblazing artist, activist, and feminist, Audre Lorde has long deserved recognition in the community where she studied, taught, and built her legacy. As our country faces a bleak post-Roe v. Wade world, there is absolutely no better time to honor such a staunch advocate for justice, equality, and civil rights.”
Commented CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez: “Audre Lorde was one of the most notable, gifted, and influential products of the CUNY system. She enrolled at Hunter College as an undergraduate, and ultimately went on to teach at three CUNY colleges: Lehman, John Jay, and at her alma mater, Hunter. As student and a teacher—and, of course, as a remarkably brilliant poet and impassioned, relentless human rights advocate—she raised awareness and broke down barriers with both her writing and her advocacy. Audre was a gift to CUNY, and it is a great pleasure to see her honored on the campus where she made such a difference.”
It is such a pleasure to see the @Hunter_College intersection at Lexington Ave. and 68 St. named for Audre Lorde, one of our most notable alumni and a legendary poet who also found the time to teach students at Hunter, @LehmanCollege and @JohnJayCollege! https://t.co/wcc0NdF9DT pic.twitter.com/6gKZyUbfy2
— Félix V. Matos Rodríguez (@ChancellorCUNY) May 13, 2022
Speaking for the Lorde family, the poet’s daughter, Elizabeth Lorde-Rollins, MD, said: “Although it’s been decades, I still remember how thrilled my mother, Audre Lorde, was when she began teaching at Hunter. I visited her office in the West building often through the years, and she’d look out the window at Thomas Hunter Hall and sometimes tell me a story or two about when she was a Hunter High School student. I know that my mother dated the beginnings of her scholarship to those early days at Hunter High, and that she prized highly the education she got at both Hunter High and Hunter College. As a Hunter professor, she pushed her students to ask and answer the hard questions that characterize truly excellent educations, and to push themselves in ways that are her lasting legacy.
“I know how extremely proud she would be, and gratified, to have 68th Street and Lexington Avenue named in her honor—how proud, indeed, our entire family is. Naming the street that anchors the Hunter College campus for Audre Lorde honors Hunter and the entire CUNY system as much as it honors my mother. Not only was she a lauded pioneer for social justice and transformation, she was a distinguished alumna, and she wielded the tools she gained at Hunter tirelessly until her early death. The battles she fought and the words she left behind have become a rallying cry for all those who seek true meritocracy, social justice, and an end to institutionalized violence. Hunter has a reason to be proud of Audre Lorde, and it does Hunter proud to have 68th Street named after her.”
Born Audrey Geraldine Lorde in New York to Caribbean immigrant parents—she dropped the “y” in “Audrey” to make her given and family names more symmetrical—Lorde attended Hunter High School. While a 15-year-old student there in 1951, she published her first poem, “Spring” in Seventeen Magazine. Still a teenager, she also began reading her work at Harlem Writers Guild poetry workshops. After earning her BA from Hunter, Lorde took her MA in Library Science at Columbia, and married fellow student Edwin Rollins. Their 1962 wedding reception took place at Roosevelt House, then a Hunter College center for women’s clubs and organizations. (They were divorced in 1970.) Lorde was a librarian in the New York City public schools from 1961 to 1968. Later, she served as a mentor to what became known in 1985 as the Audre Lorde Women’s Poetry Center at Roosevelt House.
The author of 12 poetry collections and five volumes of prose, her notable works include First Cities (1968); Cables to Rage (1970); the acclaimed poetry collection Coal (1976); The Cancer Journals (1980), an account of her years-long battle against the disease; Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1983); A Burst of Light (1988—winner of the National Book Award); The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance (1990 and Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984)—which featured one of her most celebrated prose works, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” She has inspired three documentary films. Among her many honors were an NEA fellowship and a New York State Walt Whitman Citation of Merit. She also won the 1982 Gay Caucus Book of the Year Award, and was a founder of Sisters in Support of South Africa.
Lorde can be heard reciting some of her poetry on the Library of Congress website. The recordings were made in the Library’s auditorium on February 9, 1982.
Before returning to Hunter College to teach, Lorde was writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, and served on the faculties of CUNY’s Lehman College and John Jay College. Upon her return to New York, she also co-founded Kitchen Table: The Women of Color Press.
She served as New York State Poet Laureate from 1991-1992. In appointing her, Governor Mario M. Cuomo said: “Her imagination is charged by a sharp sense of racial injustice and cruelty, of sexual prejudice... . She cries out against it as the voice of indignant humanity. Audre Lorde is the voice of the eloquent outsider who speaks in a language that can reach and touch people everywhere.”
In 2001, Lorde’s admirers created the Audre Lorde Award for lesbian-themed poetry. At Hunter, a prize for undergraduate excellence in poetry and prose is also named for her. Toward the end of her life, she took on a new name in tribute to her life partner, Gloria Joseph: “Gamba Adisa,” which means “Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known.” In 2019, her onetime Staten Island home was designated a landmark by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.
She also inspired creation of the Audre Lorde Project in Brooklyn, which champions LGBT rights, HIV-AIDS activism, and immigrant rights.
Hunter College Street Naming Ceremony
Today’s on-campus event was emceed by Spectrum News-NY1 anchor and reporter Cheryl Wills. In addition to President Raab and Council Member Powers, speakers and readers included award-winning writer Jacqueline Woodson, who was the 2015-2017 US Young People’s Poet Laureate and 2018-2019 Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Hunter College Professor Jacqueline Nassy Brown (Anthropology) and Adjunct Professor Melinda Goodman (English), both of whom studied with Audre Lorde at Hunter, read from her poems “Coal” and “Now,” respectively. “What often gets lost in emphasizing Audre’s commitment to antiracism and feminism,” commented Professor Brown, “is that, at root, her work is about humanity, community, and love.”
A special message from the Lorde family was presented by Professor Blanche Wiesen Cooke of John Jay College and playwright-librettist Clare Coss, both lifelong friends of Lorde.
Five students who spent the spring term as Roosevelt House Eva Kasten Grove Scholars studying Audre Lorde and the issue of civic memorials and monuments, read from Lorde’s essay, “There is No Hierarchy of Oppressions:” Amber D’mello (’22), Vasuki Gaba (’22), Nolan Lyons (’23), Nicole Palmetto (’22), and Isabellah Paul (’22)