Zami: A New Spelling of My Name Background

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name Background

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name is an autobiographical novel by African American poet Audre Lorde. Published in 1982, Lorde’s first novel-length piece was released in an era where feminist writers, critics, and theorists were coming to terms with the many ways cultural and sexual diversity could be examined, focusing more intently on comparisons between women rather than simply placing women as a whole in contrast to men. Zami is a groundbreaking work that pioneers a new genre of writing, which the author called "biomythography", a hybrid of biography, history, and myth.

Lorde's mother hails from the Caribbean island of Carriacou, and Lorde tells the reader the Zami is a Carriacou name for women who work together, who are friends and who are also lovers. Lorde begins the book by declaring that she has drawn much of her strength as a woman to the women in her life who taught her how to harness her own power, and the majority of the book is devoted to the stories of other women whom she celebrates. The book details Lorde's life growing up in Harlem in the 1930s and 1940s as a child of West Indian parents in a society that, despite its growing diversity, still feared that which deviated from a perceived norm or broke from the standard. Living in Harlem, then traveling to and living in upstate New York, Mexico, and once more within New York City itself, Lorde draws on her varied experiences as a road to finding her identity as well as her sexuality.

The book deals with several recurring key themes, the chief of which is the lesbian experience in the early part of the Twentieth Century, but racism in the McCarthy era, and the amazing, strong bond between mother and daughter also play definitive roles within the narrative. While the book has become known amongst literary critics as a portrait of the artist as a black lesbian, it is also a book about the importance of the unbreakable bond that binds generations of women with each other, and creates a source of power for women in the future. As a proud Afro-Caribbean woman-loving woman, Lorde in her personal work examined a version of empowerment and self-expression that was specific to her experience but was able to touch many of the oppressed people of the era. This touching narrative could only have reached the audience it did in this hey-day of minority story-telling, and as she covered issues such as being the brown or black, native, female, homosexual, big-bodied, deviant, pervert and ultimately an ‘other’, she was the personification of all those voices previously ignored.

In 1989, Lourde was awarded the American Book Award, and also received a Lambda Literary Award for work that celebrates the lesbian experience in America. Lorde died in 1992 of liver cancer the age of fifty-eight. Right before her death, in a traditional African naming ceremony, she took the name of Gamba Adisa, which means "Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known".

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