By Ashley Young
“The purpose of the writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” – Dr. Gloria Joseph
The words of Audre Lorde have influenced brown female poets, writers, activists, feminists and womanists; those living with pacified voices fighting for legacies of liberation. Lorde’s impact and spirit as a “black, lesbian, poet, mother, warrior” inspire work that continues to create, evaluate and elevate the language of both the forgotten and the unforgiven, those that write to slaughter the social death sentence of invisibility. Lorde’s poetry and prose, from “The Black Unicorn” to “Zami: The New Spelling of My Name” to “Sister Outsider,” have been sometimes overlooked in the academy but never has the light of her work faded from those who dare to see themselves reflected in the power of her words.
The hurricane of her effect on poets and writers continues to be cultivated in a new collection of stories, poems, reflections and photos, “The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy of Audre Lorde,” written by author and activist Dr. Gloria Joseph, Lorde’s partner in life and love. This Griot style collection (a West African oral tradition of storytelling) includes the work of such legendaries as Angela Davis, Adrienne Rich, Sonia Sanchez, Barbara Smith and Jewelle Gomez. The collection is rich with insights on Lorde’s life and how her work continues to permeate the works of writers today.
I had the honor and the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Joseph in a conversation about the book that left me enthralled, moved and and spiritually touched. It would do Dr. Joseph a complete injustice to try to sum up the entirety of her impact in a short article, so my attempt will be to highlight just a few facts and the feelings that arose in my mind, body and soul when hearing her speak on the collection.
Dr. Joseph was a child of eight raised in the West Indies. She was educated in the states as a graduate of New York University and acquired her PhD at Cornell University where she began her activist work, acting in an armed campus takeover, marching out with students in protest and more. She moved onto the University of Massachusetts as a professor and became a founding faculty member at Hampshire College. She returned back to the Virgin Islands and currently resides in St. Croix, speaking and teaching at conferences on the women’s and civil rights movement and leading a women’s coalition which she brought to South Africa where a documentary was made on the coalition’s history and active work. She is a world traveler, unquestionably an active writer and a golfer.
“The Wind is Spirit” was a project Lorde requested Dr. Joseph execute after her death. With no advance or publisher, writers worked as editors to help put the stories together. But in much of the spirit of Lorde, Dr. Joseph never viewed this process as hard labor.
“To put your energy in something doesn’t have to be called ‘work,’” Dr. Joseph explained. “When we speak of Audre, we are talking about a poetic genius; her sensitivity, her soul, her African ancestors and her goddesses. The woman has yet to be fully described.”
Even so, responses to “The Wind is Spirit” have been excellent, from dialogues with Sonia Sanchez at several colleges, workshops at conferences and book signings. As a reader, I found every submission unique, lyrically captivating and a window to how Lorde touched the lives of many. There were so many submissions that Dr. Joseph spoke of a second book, leaving the responsibility up to the next generation of writers who did not make the collection and have a desire to speak on Lorde’s continued influence.
When I asked Dr. Joseph about what her mourning process was for Lorde, she gave a blunt, heartfelt response:
“In this country, death is capitalistic. We’re charged thousands to bury our dead, we pay the expense of grief. The dead are still alive. They are the process of life, talking to spirits and thinking about how other people felt about them. I think of Lorde all the time. I hear her voice and this is not grief. It’s a thinking and living process.”
Those who knew Lorde would agree with Dr. Joseph. Lorde is not dead. Her voice is active, ushering in the language of acclaimed writers and writers at the beginning of embarking on their life’s work. Her energy to create is still present every time I hold her books or feel her words or hear someone speak her name. And the collection title is fitting. Her spirit still bends us without any attempt to break us, only to hold us upright in her memory and grow.
To learn more about “The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy of Audre Lorde” or to purchase a copy, visit villarosamedia.com.
Ashley Young is a Queer feminist poet, author and teacher. Her work has been published in three anthologies, Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press), All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color (University of Wisconsin Press) and Glitter and Grit: Queer Performance from the Heels on Wheels Femme Galaxy (Portland Studio). She has been a contributor for Elixher magazine since 2011 and has been featured in various online magazines, such as Autostraddle, Rvkvry Journal and more. She is a 2010 Voices of Our Nation’s Foundation Poetry Fellow and a 2011 Lambda Literary Foundation Nonfiction Fellow, to return summer of 2016. She has taught her biomythography workshop at the Fire and Ink Conference in 2015 and at the Northeast Queer and Trans Conference at NYU. She performs her work at various readings throughout the country and will be reading at her first solo show at Bluestockings Bookstore, Cafe and Activist Center in New York City. She is currently working on a collection of poetry and prose entitled Chronicles of Bipolar Living and is completing her first novel, a biomythography entitled The Liberation of the Black Unicorn. Ashley lives in New York City with her wife, four wild cats and her sweet service dog.