When it comes to race issues at the intersection of sexuality and literature, Audre Lorde was one of the most prolific voices of the 20th century. Born in New York to Grenadian immigrants, much of her work chronicles the serious need to address racism, homophobia and classism at a national level. In an industry dominated by white counterparts, it's remarkable and also inspiring that a Black, lesbian poet made such a presence and impact like Lorde.

Fans of the activist's work were deprived of more publications when she succumbed to a 14-year battle with breast cancer in 1992 at the age of 58. Nevertheless, Lorde provided literary scholars with plenty of compositions to analyze, including the following five excellent pieces: 

1. Power

Published in 1978, “Power” tells the story of a real life murder and subsequent trial. Unfortunately, some of the themes in the prose are applicable more than 40 years later. On April 28, 1973, 10-year-old Black boy Clifford Glover was shot and killed by on-duty, undercover police officer Thomas Shea in Queens, New York. On June 12, 1974, a jury of 11 white people and one Black person acquitted the police officer of all charges, leading to days of protests. Themes in this poem include racial justice, prejudice and racism.

2. Coal

It’s important to note how definitive Lorde begins “Coal.” She identifies herself as a Black individual and from there, celebrates everything unique about the African-American experience through sharp imagery and colloquial uses of the English language. Understanding the concept that coal produces fuel, Lorde concludes that being Black is having power, being royal. “Coal” is an unabashed celebration of one’s dark and beautiful complexion.

3. Who Said it Was Simple

Though somewhat brief, the message behind 1973’s “Who Said it Was Simple” is profound. In her own words, Lorde recounts the racism she observed within the feminist movement during her adult years. Their rights are important, that’s definitely understood. However, these white women fail to recognize the difficulties Black Americans are equally enduring in their quest for liberation. Though her voice remains morose, she inserts bits of sarcasm through the work. Not everyone reading this sonnet can relate to Lorde’s experience, and she earnestly puts it into perspective for that audience.

4. A Woman Speaks

In Contained fromThe Collected Work of Audre Lorde, Lorde focuses on the disparities in how Black women are perceived and personal efforts to characterize herself without conforming to societal standards. Though it speaks to the experiences of Black women in the United States and across the globe, she can’t help but wonder if the feminist movement could do more to support this underrepresented community.

5. The Black Unicorn

Using poignant imagery, “The Black Unicorn” examines Lorde’s relationship with femininity, tying that with other complex themes of oppression, sexuality and African civilization. Sexual and spiritual freedom is a common theme in most of the late writer’s work, and that is no different in this arrangement. One passionate part of this poem is Lorde boldly looking to destroy the depravity of deities that has resulted in the maltreatment of women. 

Audre Lorde honestly depicted the plight of both Black Americans and the queer community through her work. Refusing to be victimized by a disease that still tragically kills millions of people nationwide, Lorde’s passionate writings fought for justice on all minority fronts and rightly paved the way for contemporary wordsmiths to continue discussing these important topics.