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Audre Lorde Taught Us: Porsha Olayiwola on Audre Lorde and Social Justice

Audre Lorde Taught Us: Porsha Olayiwola on Audre Lorde and Social Justice

Author: Mahogany L. Browne

February 24, 2020

I saw tote bag with black words etched on top “In Lorde I Trust.” This tote bag, carried by someone in my neighborhood somewhere gentrified and busy in Brooklyn, gave me pause and hope. To me, Audre Lorde is a symbol of righteousness and infliction. Lorde is a symbol of the sacrifice one has made to the rage held within and the love one’s ego has sacrificed in search of justice. Audre Lorde, a beacon of Blackness and Womanhood and Lesbianism, a Writer Warrior; compelled, urged and demanded so many speak up for their communities and our shared world. She risked her life writing from the meeting point of her various intersections with a vulnerability that would cause so many humans to shatter from the insistent weight and stress of being a global citizen.

Her writing, a machete; and her collection Sister Outsider, a map. No, maybe it is a weapon, too. Yes. Yes, it is all of these things. Lorde’s hunger to rename and speak of her own body’s will is revealed and revels a splendor that leaves the student/reader/universal eye, restless. The search for the self is a continuous journey, a life with no end if done correctly. Until of course, our final breath. And so we must continue to honor the restlessness with insistent queries, Lorde reminds us growth happens again and again and again, still. This is a series of questions and answers featuring the ideas around Lorde’s work with some of the most profound thinkers, artists, writers, educators, poets, and activists of our time. This is in celebration of the re-release Penguin Vitae hardback edition of Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. Enjoy the dirge work

Porsha Olayiwola is from the future! Black, poet, queer-dyke, hip-hop feminist, womanist: Porsha is a native of Chicago who now resides in Boston. Olayiwola is a writer, performer, educator and curator who uses afro-futurism and surrealism to examine historical and current issues in the Black, woman, and queer diasporas. She is an Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and the artistic director at MassLEAP, a literary youth organization. Olayiwola is an MFA Candidate at Emerson College. Porsha Olayiwola is the author of i shimmer sometimes, too forthcoming with Button Poetry and is the current poet laureate for the city of Boston

When were you introduced to Audre Lorde? And from her work—where did your research go?

I was first introduced to Audre Lorde my sophomore year of undergraduate, in a Black feminist thought course. I first read ZAMI: a new spelling of my name and fell in love with Lorde’s creative work upon the epigraph. From there I want inward. And what I mean to say is Audre Lorde has a way of writing, of balancing the fiercely soft with the evocative masculine that causes you to explore a range of dichotomies within yourself and the surrounding words. I guess in short terms, after ZAMI, I turned to Sister Outsider, and so on and so forth.

Porsha OlayiwolaCan you talk about what “Uses of the Erotic” means to you, your identity and your artistic practice?

As a fat, dark, queer, woman, socialization never granted me the right to feel erotic nor to navigate my own erotica. Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic” as power beckons me to revisit a “deeply female and spiritual and plane,” to feel and indulge in every action (creative, sexual, or otherwise) with my entire self, with my wide array of emotions. Lorde reminds us, reminds me that each time I allow myself to feel fully, I cast out any deed or interaction that self negates my best self, my true self, my whole self.

When considering your work & the communities you engage with, can you give a specific example of Lorde’s being used as a tool for social change?

Whenever I think of Lorde’s work and writing as it actively engages with the communities I love and serve, I am forever thinking on Lorde’s statement “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” in the work that comes with a social justice lens, it is imperative to constantly interrogate the tools we use to ensure we are not perpetuating violence. The revolution starts at home. All of our struggles are tied, as is our liberation. In order to dismantle it all, we dismantle it all. I am constantly working in that framework and even unworking that framework in my creative writing and curation.

Mahogany L. Browne photo

About: Mahogany L. Browne

Mahogany L. Browne is a writer, organizer & educator. The Interim Executive Director of Urban Word NYC & thePoetry Coordinator at St. Francis College. Browne has received fellowships from Agnes Gund, Air Serenbe, Cave Canem, Poets House, Mellon Research & Rauschenberg. She is the author of Woke: A Young Poets Call to JusticeWoke Baby & Black Girl Magic (Macmillan), Kissing Caskets (Yes Yes Books) & Dear Twitter (Penmanship Books). She is also the founder of the Woke Baby Book Fair (a nationwide diversity literature campaign) & as an Arts for Justice grantee, is completing her first book of essays on mass incarceration, investigating its effect on women and children. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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