Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
by Audre Lorde
Publishing Details: The Crossing Press, May 1984
Back-of-the-Book Summary: In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope.
I first read Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” in 2018, while I was in grad school. As soon as I finished, I knew I was going to read everything this woman had ever written. So I started with Sister Outsider.
What I Liked:
Lorde was an incredible scholar and poet, and this book is a beautiful testament to her skills in both arenas. Sometimes I would underline a section because it felt like concentrated truth, and other times I would underline because the language was just so beautiful. But what I love most is that Lorde says that these two things are actually meant to go together.
That’s what she does throughout the entire book. Each of these essays and speeches explores difference not as a chasm between, but more like shadows, playing off each other, both necessary for the existence of the other.
Honestly, each one of the 15 essays and speeches deserve their own review. Sister Outsider covers such a wide variety of topics, from the racist and misogynistic roots of excluding emotion from the logical process to the causes and variations of the anger between people of color to the performative nature of media in the United States. Each one deserves its own dissertation, and honestly, I have no idea how to review them all together.
Basically, here’s what I liked: this book opened my eyes to some of the realities and intricacies of what it’s really like to be a Black lesbian in America, which is a point of view I’ve never really experienced before. Not in fiction or memoir, and definitely not in scholarly work. The entire time I was reading Sister Outsider, I was learning what it’s really like to be Black in America, and to be a lesbian in a variety of different communities.
What I liked about Sister Outsider is that it wasn’t written for me as a straight, white woman. It didn’t cater to my white fragility (I don’t think). It was written to convey the truth as it is, no sugar coating, no hand-holding. And the truth is devastating and complicated and absolutely necessary to know if anything is ever going to change.
What I Disliked:
Nothing. Honestly, this book should have been essential reading in school. It is the perfect demonstration of how scholarly work doesn’t have to be boring or heartless or pointless. It is passionate, relevant, and informative and even if I did have some criticism of it, to be honest, I wouldn’t feel like it mattered. Again, I am a straight white woman, and even though Audre Lorde and I have a lot in common as women and poets and human beings, our experiences differ wildly, making any criticism on my end inherently uninformed.
You Might Like This Book If…
- …you are trying to read more Black authors
- …you are looking for examples of emotion in scholarly work
- …you are interested in history, racism, homophobia, and/or American politics
- …you want to connect with a Black lesbian poet
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