Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

My goal during Pride Month is to consume black queer literature, and this was the first book I picked up. I had heard of Audre Lorde before I read this book, but I wasn’t familiar with her work and I didn’t know that she was gay. Before Zami, I don’t think I’d read any books by black queer authors that were specifically about being black and queer, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this new type of story. I think all black stories are worth being shared, and I hope that you take the time this month to support LGBTQ+ people and their art.

The Rundown

Lorde describes Zami as a biomythography. To me this means that some of the stories shared in this book are not true, but they still explain who Audre Lorde is and how she reached a better understanding of herself as she grew into adulthood. This isn’t a story of her entire life – it ends around age 25 – but it is the tale of how the author learned to move through the world as a black gay woman in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Lorde addresses several women that she loved and encountered throughout her youth, historical events that changed the world, and how she grappled with being part of multiple different marginalized groups. 

Length: 256 Pages

Additional Sections: There’s a short introduction before the prologue – it’s probably worth the read

Genre: Biomythography – there is no other way to describe it

Year Published: 1982

The Good Stuff

I appreciated how Lorde examined her existence in the world, and how her position as a black gay woman separated her from so many other groups of people. Straight black people didn’t accept her because she was living in a time where gay people had to hide who they were around straight people (I wish we could say we’re completely removed from that time, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do). Gay white women didn’t fully understand her experience either, because they still benefitted from racism, which is the most powerful system of oppression in the U.S. I thought she detailed her unique experience very well, and this book was a beautiful dedication to black gay women. 

Audre Lorde lived through several huge moments in history, and she wove those moments into her life story seamlessly. I thought the way she mentioned World War II, Brown v. Board, and several other events was so smart. She paired so many of her personal life events with some of the most important things that have happened in U.S. history, and it was a unique way of describing the world she was living in during her youth. I also liked that she always took time to explain the clothing trends of each time period and how gay women had to dress to ensure that they weren’t arrested or assaulted. Her attention to detail all throughout the book was impeccable. 

At its core, I think this book is a story of Audre’s youth through the descriptions of relationships with different women she loved. She started with her mother and her sisters, and she moved to her friends and romantic partners as she got older. I loved reading about how every woman she came in contact with throughout her life taught her something about what kind of person she was. She was involved with women of different ages, races, and lifestyles, and they all informed the way she viewed the world. I enjoyed reading through her growth as she had different partners. This aspect of the book was relatable to me, and I think it would benefit many of us to look at the people we’ve been involved with and understand what we learned about ourselves and the world around us from the time we spent with those people. 

I always put the year the book was published in my reviews because I want people (myself included) to understand how revolutionary a book might’ve been when it first came out. Lorde described herself and other women in the book as fat several times throughout the book. The celebration of sexualization of fat women in this book which was released in the early 80s seems like it would’ve been revolutionary to me. The word fat is just now being reclaimed as a word that people are proud of, and I enjoyed how Lorde used it back then to describe women who were beautiful and alluring. This entire book is a clear symbol of just how much she was ahead of her time, but this part of the book showed to me that Audre Lorde was body positive before people even knew what that meant. Zami is an example of how much of a visionary she was, and she displayed that effortlessly in this book. 

What I Would Change

This book isn’t that long, but it took me almost two weeks to read it. The first 30 pages and the last 30 pages of the story were really slow, and it was hard for me to feel interested. It seemed like these two sections of the book were more of the myth parts of the biomythography, and maybe that’s why they didn’t keep my attention like that. I think the parts that covered the actual events of her life were the best parts because they were relatable, and I could’ve done without the lofty beginning and ending. 

Overall Rating: 9/10

I hope y’all enjoyed this! The next book I’m reading is Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. I’ll be back with the review for that soon.

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