Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of my Name


Watertown, Massachusetts: Persephone Press, 1982.

First edition, first printing. [viii] 256 pp. Paperback. Light crease to lower corner of cover, light scratch to lower spine, a few stains on fore edge, otherwise clean and in good condition with a lovely inscription on the free end paper: “Merry Christmas to my talented sister Lisa - lets become better friends this year. Karen.”


This Bridge Called My Back inspired other forms of print activism, like Barbara Smith’s Homegirls, and the creation of a new press run by women of color to publish both the second edition of Bridge, and Homegirls, The Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. More immediately it furthered the work of its contributors, including Audre Lorde, whose Zami is a beautiful work both in its expression and experimentation that can only be described in Lorde’s own terms, as “auto-bio-mythography.” Page 82 of this copy of the book is dog-eared, touching the following paragraphs that allow the power of Zami touching issues of race, class, sexuality and coming-into-one’s-own, to speak for itself:

We were The Branded, the Lunatic Fringe, proud of our outrageousness and our madness, our bizarre-colored inks and quill pens. We learned how to mock the straight set, and how to cultivate our group paranoia into an instinct for self-protection that always stopped our shenanigans just short of expulsion. We wrote obscure poetry and cherished our strangeness as the spoils of default, and in the process we learned that pain and rejection hurt, but that they weren’t fatal, and that they could be useful since they couldn’t be avoided. We learned that not feeling at all was worse than hurting. At that time, suffering was clearly what we did best. We became The Branded because we learned how to make a virtue out of it.

How meager the sustenance was I gained from the four years I spent in high school; yet, how important that sustenance was to my survival. Remembering that time is like watching old pictures of myself in a prison camp picking edible scraps out of the garbage heap, and knowing that without that garbage I might have starved to death. The overwhelming racism of so many of the faculty, including the ones upon whom I had my worst schoolgirl crushes. How little I settled for in the way of human contact, compared to what I was conscious of wanting. It was in high school that I came to believe that I was different from my white classmates, not because I was Black, but because I was me.


Kayann Short, “Coming to the Table: The Differential Politics of This Bridge Called My Back,” in Carol Siegel, Ann M. Kibbey, eds. Eroticism and Containment: Notes from the Flood Plain (New York and London: NYU Press, 1994) 3-44.

Brooke Palmieri