On Thursday, October 27th, members of the CSI Library participated in the program “Celebrating Audre Lorde,” an event that was open also open to the Staten Community. The event was held to celebrate the life, work, and legacy of Audre Lorde who self-described herself as “Black poet, writer, radical feminist, lesbian, and human rights activist.” The event was triggered by a recent article of Prof. David Allen about Audre Lorde, Mortars over Stapleton Heights: Audre Lorde on Staten Island, where he noted that the year 2022 would mark the 30th anniversary of her death and the 50th anniversary of her moving to Staten Island with her partner Frances Clayton and two children. By all accounts, the program was a successful virtual event. Ninety-one people logged in to the event and 86 stayed through Q&A.
The audience was welcomed by Professor and Reference/Instruction librarian, Wilma Jones, who introduced a web-bibliography to accompany the event. She concluded her remarks by showing a 3-min video clip from the documentary “The Berlin Years” to have with Audre Lorde, herself, welcome everyone. The documentary and other resources mentioned at the event can be found at https://library.csi.cuny.edu/audrelorde.
Highlights from the program include formal introductory remarks from Prof. Rosanne Carlo from the Department of English who stated that Audre Lorde’s “writings speak to us today just as much to her contemporaries because of her ethos and presence in her texts, the way she inserts herself, and asserts her identities.” Prof. Carlo moderated the event and introduced the following people:
Amanda Davis, Project manager from NYC LGBT Historic Site Projects, gave us insights to Audre Lorde’s life and legacy in New York City. She also presented information about landmark process and designation of the residence where Audre Lorde lived from 1972 to 1987 in Stapleton, Staten Island.
Cate Marvin, Poet and Professor of English at the College of Staten Island, read one of her favorite poems by Lorde, Movement Song. Using a link from the webpage on poems from the website, and asked us to read along with her.
Debbie Ann Paige from the Staten Island African American Heritage Tour presented a brief history of African Americans on Staten Island since 1640, and in particular the experiences and challenges of African Americans in Stapleton.
Jamal Reynolds, a CSI student and a member Black Student Union, graciously read one of Lorde's poems, Hanging Fire, that he found impactful and spoke directly to him as an adolescent.
Matt Brim, Professor of Queer Studies, spoke about Audre Lorde’s professional life, first as a librarian and later a professor within CUNY, at John Jay College where she helped build a Black Studies program and at Hunter College, where she held the position of Distinguished Thomas Hunter Chair. He spoke of how fierce a woman she was and recalled a conversation between Audre Lorde and James Baldwin at Hampshire College in 1984. Moreover, he mentioned that, without a doubt, it was because of Audre Lorde’s work that programs like Queer Studies, Gender Studies, LGBTQ Studies, and African and African Diaspora Studies exist.
An 8-min video clip of friends of Audre Lorde, along with her daughter, having a fulfilled hearty conversation about Audre Lorde, was sent in by Victoria Munro, Curator and Director of the Alice Austen House. The edited clip was from a virtual event held in 2020 about Audre Lorde, entitled Women are Powerful and Dangerous. The full length video can be found on the web-bibliography under virtual exhibition.
Prof. David Allen, our last speaker, shared some of the Staten Island Advance articles he came across in the Audre Lorde Papers at Spellman College while doing research on Lorde. He also read an Audre Lorde poem, Outlines, which reflects her complicated relationship with Staten Island.
The program was closed out by Audre Lorde, herself, in a 3-min videoclip from the documentary, “ Litany for Survival.”
The event was co-sponsored by the College of Staten Island School of Education, Department of the Library, Department of English, Office of Student Life - LGBTQ Resource Center/Pluralism & Diversity, Bertha Harris Women’s Center, and the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program. We were especially grateful for the participation of the Alice Austen House Museum, NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, and the Staten Island African American Heritage Tour.
(Article by Wilma Jones, event organizer)