While we’re unable to meet in the theater, we’re taking our book club online. Join us on Friday, August 14 from 5-6pm on Zoom. We’ll be reading and discussing one of the texts from the NYU Office of Global Inclusion and Diversity’s Anti-Black Racism Education Resource ListRSVP here to receive the Zoom link.

Order a copy of Sister Outsider from our list, and NYU Skirball will receive a portion of the proceeds.



Audre Lorde (1934-1992) published nine volumes of poetry and five works of prose. She was a recipient of many distinguished honors and awards, including honorary doctorates from Hunter, Oberlin, and Haverford Colleges, and was named New York State Poet (1991-1993).

Talking Points

If you don’t have time to read the whole collection, focus on three of the well-known essays: “Poetry is Not a Luxury” – “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” – and “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.”

  • If this is your first encounter with Lorde, did you recognize any of her words and ideas from other contexts? Did your understanding change from the popular use of some of her phrases, vs. reading them in the larger context of an essay?
  • There are no new pains. We have felt them all already.” (39)
  • Poetry, possibility, pleasure, and dreams of better futures
  • The importance of class, race, gender in revolutionary thought and action
  • “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house… And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.” (112) This famous essay was written in response to a particular academic conference in the 70s; how does it resonate today?
  • The “uses of anger” vs. calls for civility (historical & contemporary) in protest, activism, and social justice work

Get Into It

Originally in ESSENCE, 1984

Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation Between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde

“It’s vital for me to be able to listen to you, to hear what is it that defines you and for you to listen to me, to hear what is it that defines me – because so long as we are operating in that old pattern, it doesn’t serve anybody, and it certainly hasn’t served us.”

LA Review of Books

Reading Audre Lorde’s "Sister Outsider” After Charlottesville

Even the occasional consumer of progressive discourse in the United States is probably more familiar with Audre Lorde’s aphorisms than she might suspect. Quotes like “women are powerful and dangerous,” “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” and “your silence will not protect you” are as meme-able as they are imperative.

Close Reading

“Poetry is Not a Luxury”

  • As we learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny and to flourish within it, as we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule our lives and form our silences begin to lose their control over us. (36)
  • When we view living in the european mode only as a problem to be solved, we rely solely upon our ideas to make us free, for these were what the white fathers told us were precious. But as we come more into touch with our own ancient, non-european consciousness of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with, we learn more and more to cherish our feelings, and to respect those hidden sources of our power from where true knowledge, and, therefore, lasting action comes. (37)
  • Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives. (37)
  • Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before. (38)
  • Possibility is neither forever nor instant. It is not easy to sustain belief in its efficacy. We can sometimes work long and hard to establish one beachhead of real resistance to the deaths we are expected to live, only to have that beachhead assaulted or threatened by those canards we have been socialized to fear, or by the withdrawal of those approvals that we have been warned to seek for safety. (38)
  • The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us – the poet – whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom. (38)
  • Experience has taught us that action in the now is also necessary, always. Our children cannot dream unless they live, they cannot live unless they are nourished, and who else will feed them the real food without which their dreams will be no different from ours? “If you want us to change the world someday, we at least have to live long enough to grow up!” shouts the child. (38)
  • There are no new pains. We have felt them all already. (39)
  • If what we need to dream, to move our spirits most deeply and directly toward and through promise, is discounted as a luxury, then we give up the core – the fountain – of our power… we give up the future of our worlds. (39)
  • There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt… while we suffer the old longings, battle the old warnings and fears of being silent and impotent and alone, while we taste new possibilities and strengths. (39)

“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

  • It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences… The absence of these considerations [difference of race, sexuality, class and age] weakens any feminist discussion of the personal and the political. (110)
  • What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable. (110-111)
  • Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women. (111)
  • Difference must not be merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters… Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged. (111-112)
  • Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist. (112)
  • Survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support. (112)
  • The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower. (112)
  • Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women – in the face of tremendous resistance – as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought. (113)

“The Uses of Anger”

  • My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also. (124)
  • For example: I speak out of direct and particular anger at an academic conference, and a white woman says, “Tell me how you feel but don’t say it too harshly or I cannot hear you.” But is it my manner that keeps her from hearing, or the threat of a message that her life may change? (125)
  • Everything can be used / except what is wasteful / (you will need / to remember this when you are accused of destruction.) (127)
  • Anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification, for it is in the painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies with whom we have grave differences, and who are our genuine enemies. (127)
  • If I participate, knowingly or otherwise, in my sister’s oppression and she calls me on it, to answer her anger with my own only blankets the substance of our exchange with reaction. It wastes energy. And yes, it is very difficult to stand still and to listen to another woman’s voice delineate an agony I do not share, or one to which I have contributed. (128)
  • Any discussion among women about racism must include the recognition and the use of anger. This discussion must be direct and creative because it is crucial. We cannot allow or fear of anger to deflect us nor seduce us into settling for anything less than the hard work of excavating honesty; we must be quite serious about the choice of this topic and the angers entwined within it because, rest assured, our opponents are quite serious about their hatred of us and of what we are trying to do here. (128-129)
  • Hatred is the fury of those who do not share our goals, and its object is death and destruction. Anger is a grief of distortions between peers, and its object is change. (129)
  • It is not the anger of other women that will destroy us but our refusals to stand still, to listen to its rhythms, to learn within it, to move beyond the manner of presentation to the substance, to tap that anger as an important source of empowerment. (130)
  • I have no creative use for guilt, yours or my own. Guilt is only another way of avoiding informed action, of buying time out of the pressing need to make clear choices, out of the approaching storm that can feed the earth as well as bend the trees. If I speak to you in anger, at least I have spoken to you; I have not put a gun to your head and shot you down in the street; I have not looked at your bleeding sister’s body and asked, “What did she do to deserve it?” (130)
  • For women raised to fear, too often anger threatens annihilation. In the male construct of brute force, we were taught that our lives depended on the good will of patriarchal power. The anger of others was to be avoided at all costs because there was nothing to be learned from it but pain… And if we accept our powerlessness, then of course any anger can destroy us. (131)
  • My response to racism is anger. That anger has eaten clefts into my living only when it remains unspoken, useless to anyone. It has also served me in classrooms without light or learning, where the work and history of Black women was less than a vapor. It has served me as fire in the ice zone of uncomprehending eyes of white women who see in my experience and the experience of my people only new reasons for fear or guilt. And my anger is no excuse for not dealing with your blindness, no reason to withdraw from the results of your own actions. (131)
  • Guilt is only another form of objectification. Oppressed peoples are always being asked to stretch a little more, to bridge the gap between blindness and humanity. Black women are expected to use our anger only in the service of other people’s salvation or learning. But that time is over.
  • My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I’m going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity. (132)
  • I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is any one of you. (132-133)