“We must learn to count the living with that same particular attention with which we number the dead.”
~ Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals, page 54, first full line
I met Audre Lorde when I was living in California. I was in a poetry writing workshop in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Ginny, the poet who led the workshop, knew Lorde. One spring we all went to a conference at Stanford on Women and Power, and Audre Lorde was one of the speakers. I still get shivers when I remember her voice reading the poem “Harriet,” and every time her voice rang out with that name—Harriet—I heard my own name ring out. I was not a black lesbian radical feminist; I was a white suburban housewife. Still, her poems spoke to me. At the end of the conference, she met up with us on the brick walk leading to the conference hall, where Ginny was smoking one of her thin, brown cigarettes. This was after Lorde’s mastectomy. She gave Ginny a hard look and said, “Please put out that cigarette,” and her voice was the voice of God, not thunderous but rich and deep with the power she had gained in all those years growing into Who She Was. Ginny had her own kind of power going on, but I’m telling you—no one could argue with Audre Lorde about anything, least of all something like smoking that was so obviously cancer producing. I watched with fascination as Ginny meekly stepped over to a stone urn-like thing and put out her cigarette in the sand without saying a word. Then Lorde hugged her and shook hands with each of us and thanked us for coming.
Audre Lorde died about 10 years later of liver cancer.
Ginny died about 20 years later of lung cancer.
Your silence will not protect you. ~ Audre Lorde