Audre Lorde, The Last Black Unicorn (Proof)


Marnstable, MA: Crane Duplicating Service, no date. [New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978.]

Advance Proof, [xiv] 120 pp. Paperback, photocopied publication information taped to front cover covering title. A very good, clean copy. 


In the ten years since the publication of Audre Lorde’s first book of poetry, The First Cities, so much had changed, and Lorde’s style and subject matter in this proof copy of The Black Unicorn incorporates her experiences and understandings of that change with striking beauty, and occasional heartbreak. Poems include her famous “A Litany for Survival,” (So it is better to speak / remembering / we were not meant to survive”), encouraging to speak truth to power: as she writes in “A Song for Many Movements: “Our labor has become / more important / than our silence.” The Black Unicorn weaves together the mythic and the topical. Black Power and the Black Panthers’ response to police brutality and the abolition of prisons is combined with an exploration of the Kingdom of Dahomeny and an invocation of its warrior women, the Amazons, its gods and goddesses, and the neighboring religious traditions of the Yoruba. A glossary of African names used in the poems provides further resources for the reader, giving deeper roots to African American political struggle. But the poems are so vivid because the violent world that shaped their creation is not a memory: “Eulogy for Alvin Frost” could have been written for Treyvon Martin, Freddie Grey, Eric Garner: “I am tired of writing memorials to black men / whom I was on the brink of knowing.” 

Amidst such a world of violence and heartbreak the individual poet is still present to bear witness to her own reality: Lorde the poet still gives us glimpses into the intimacies of her everyday life, the people she loves, her experiences of the changing seasons and landscapes of the places she visits. In “Journeystones I-XI” we encounter her friends and lovers, the women who populate her days and nights, her “sister outsiders.” The collection closes with incredible intimacy, celebrating the solstice seemingly one-on-one with Lorde, whose poetry is as a prayer: 

May I never remember reasons

for my spirit’s safety

may I never forget

the warning of my women’s flesh

weeping at the new moon 

may I never lose

the terror

that keeps me brave

May I owe nothing

that I cannot repay.


Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1980).

Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (Watertown, MA: Persephone Press, 1982).

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg, NY: The Crossing Press, 1984).

Audre Lorde, I Am Your sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Audre Lorde, Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Essays and Poems (London: Silver Press, 2017).

Brooke Palmieri