Self-described “Black, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet warrior” Audre Lorde (1934-1992), her partner Frances Clayton, and Lorde’s two children lived in this house at 207 St. Paul’s Avenue from 1972 to 1987. Lorde, a Harlem native, was an acclaimed writer who became internationally renowned as a lecturer and civil rights activist, especially for women of color. She and Clayton, a white psychology professor, were together for 21 years. In a 1980s interview with Louise Chawla, Lorde noted that their Staten Island home, with its garden, trees, and proximity to the water, provided a balance between her desire for a bond with nature and her commitment to raise her children in New York City.
A prolific writer of books of poetry and non-fiction, essays, and articles for scholarly journals, Lorde often worked in her upstairs study here. A selection of notable works written during this time include Coal (1976), The Black Unicorn, (1978), The Cancer Journals (1980), and Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982). In Zami she mentions Greenwich Village’s Pony Stable Inn and the Bagatelle, two post-World War II lesbian bars that she had frequented. In the book, she writes,
“It was hard enough to be Black, to be Black and female, to be Black, female, and gay. To be Black, female, gay, and out of the closet in a white environment, even to the extent of dancing in the Bagatelle, was considered by many Black lesbians to be simply suicidal.”
While living in her Staten Island house, Lorde was a professor of English at John Jay College, held the prestigious post of Thomas Hunter Chair of Literature at Hunter College, and spoke at the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. In 1980, she was among a group of women who co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which published work by and about women of color. Her book I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities (1986) was one of its publications.
“I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.”
In addition to being the subject of three biographical films, Lorde appeared in the 1984 documentary Beyond Stonewall. Of her numerous honors, she was named Staten Island Community College’s “Woman of the Year” in 1975, given the Borough of Manhattan President’s Award for Literary Excellence in 1987, and named Poet Laureate of New York State in 1991.
The Audre Lorde Project, founded in 1994 — two years after Lorde’s death — is a “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color center for community organizing” in Brooklyn and Manhattan that builds on Lorde’s legacy of speaking out for oppressed and marginalized groups. In 2019, an “Audre Lorde Way” street sign was installed at the corner of St. Paul’s Avenue and Victory Boulevard, near Lorde’s former home.