Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
I read Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name for my Women & Gender Studies class and I loved it. For my class, we had to write a summary for each chapter, so here is what I submitted. Overall, I loved Lorde’s descriptive writing style and I appreciate her raw honesty as she navigates us through the harsh world of being a black lesbian in the 1950s.
Lorde begins the biomythography by addressing the readers, answering questioning pertaining to her inspiration and dedicating her writing through the inspiration of women she has come in contact with.
The first chapter includes Lorde illuminating us about her parents’ journey to the Americas for work. Because her mother has lighter skin, her employer did not know she was Black until she met Lorde’s father. Lorde also discusses her parent’s struggles they faced as they learned to assimilate and the racism they constantly encountered. To deal with these obstacles, Lorde highlights how nostalgia for their home country has healed them.
In the following chapter, Lorde acknowledges how her mother was different than other mother’s she encountered. Even at a young age, the author was able to notice how powerful her mother was and could be considered as “other.” Lorde also explains how her parents came together and how they were both active in the decision-making. But whenever it was a serious topic, they spoke in patios, which I am assuming, Lorde and her sisters did not understand.
In this chapter, Lorde discusses how she learned how to read and her struggles in school. She was originally in a school that was designed for children with disabilities, Lorde herself possessed vision problems. But when she transitioned into a new, Catholic school, she dealt with blatant racism. Her classroom was separated by bad “Brownies” and good “Fairies”, which Lorde found herself to be on the bad side.
Lorde expresses her loneliness in this chapter as she explains how she desires to have a companion. With her attempts, she has her first sexual experience with a girl named “Toni.” Lorde expresses her fascination with her appearance and clothes and her “doll-like” image.
In this chapter, Lorde expresses how she was jealous of her older sister but her emotions are filtered through her child’s point-of-view. Lorde further discusses the fun of the family summer vacations her family would take and explains how it changed the dynamic of the relationship with her sisters.
Lorde highlights her and her sisters love of comic books but when they go to a local comic book store, Lorde is harassed and manhandled by the comic book storeowner. Following this event, Lorde discusses the adventures she and her sisters experienced as they walked through the city, which they noted the differences in environments.
With news of the upcoming war, Lorde explains how her parents knew to start worrying about money. Even in school, officials were preparing kids for war as well. Concluding this chapter, Lorde highlights how the war benefited her father and black people because of the opening of jobs and resources.
At a young age, Lorde is introduced to Race, which reminds me of W.E.B DuBois’s theory of second consciousness. In this belief, a black child will recognize race, realizes she is black at a young age, and comprehend that being black is “bad.” I can also relate to this experience because I was about nine years old when I realized I was biracial. When I was coming back from summer camp, I pointed out my mom to my friend, who said she could not possible be my mom because she was white and I was black. Following this revelation, Lorde explains how their landlord killed himself because he was desperate enough to “rent to Negroes” (59). Unable to escape discrimination, Lorde explains how she experienced racism in school, which was mostly white. Notwithstanding this, Lorde wanted to run for class president despite the lack of popularity, which she lost and did not understand why because she was the smartest kid in her class.
In this short chapter, Lorde discusses her special alone times with her father. Even though they did not speak much, words were unnecessary as they bonded.
With her trip to Washington, D.C, Lorde remembers how her sister was excluded from the school trip to the country’s capitol because of her race. Also, Lorde explains how her parents deal with American racism and her anger at the injustice and her parents’ compliance.
Despite claiming she craves American food, Lorde discusses her culture’s cooking traditions and how she ends up eating West Indian food, which requires different spices and tools. Also, Lorde explains how when she was going through puberty, sex was not discussed and mentions her shame and confusion when she was raped.
Lorde complains how she is always learning about “sisterhood” yet the racism she constantly deals with prevents it. Also, with her friends at school, though they were all different, did not discuss race.
Lorde expresses her unsuccessful interaction with the other black girls in her school, expect for the rebellious Gennie. Her recalcitrant actions with her wild friend, Lorde finds herself in anguish at Gennie’s first attempted suicide and dealing with their unruly fights.
In this sad chapter, Lorde’s childhood friend Gennie is sadly successful in her final suicide attempt. Lorde’s anguish at losing her one, true friend is evident in the text.
In this chapter, Lorde explains her decision to leave home at seventeen years old. Lorde explains how her parents disapproved of her boyfriend Peter, who was white and more traumatic instances like another incident of sexual violence, her unplanned pregnancy, and her medical abortion.
Lorde lovingly describes her apartment on Spring street in great detail, mentioning how she moved two weeks after her abortion, and looking back at her old writing and seeing the growth.
In this chapter, Lorde continues to care and provide for the rat-tag group, the Branded.
Admitting how she kept a strong image to protect those around her despite, Lorde expresses how much the abortion has destroyed her. The author introduces Marie, a girl she had been kissing and flirting with and reveals how Marie’s mother’s obvious disapproval of her. Marie’s mother claims that Lorde is whore because she lives alone. And her judgement of Lorde is mostly because of her racism. Ironically, Marie’s husband becomes charged with “white slavery”– transporting girls across states lines for prostituting and Lorde reveals her surprise and horror. Lorde fills us in on the historical aspect of the times, mentioning historical events following the suspicion and fear of the Red Scare and McCarthyism. Lorde eventually moves to New Haven for work and notes the culture differences from the NYC. While working, the author acknowledges how Black workers are mistreated. Employers want to pay Black workers less so they hire them for three weeks then fired them before they could apply for the union.
While looking for a job, Lorde acknowledges the challenges Black women have a difficult time finding jobs. Finally finding a job at a small factory, which deals with commercial x-ray machines, Lorde notes that mostly minorities, Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and women work in the factory. The minorities also work the hardest, most dangerous jobs and are paid less. Historically, the working traditions for minorities were mostly similar. A light in the bleak life of factory work, the author highlights her blooming friendship with Ginger, who is divorced and helps Audre adjust to factory-life.
Ginger informs Audre that the town center is named after a black man fallen–Crispus Attucks, who died in the Revolutionary war. Audre is upset she did not learn about him
because she had a fine education but questions the type of education she received, which
was mostly white and English history based. Lorde reveals her nervousness admitting she is gay with Ginger, which later turns into a passionate, eye-opening lovemaking experience. Ginger’s mother finally accepts Audre but then tells her she still expects Ginger to marry, which means, a man.
Reunited with her family because of the stroke and then the death of her father, Lorde reveals how his death has drastically changed her mother. Lorde sadly feels like a “stranger” in the house and when she returns to new Haven, she receives an injury and because of it, gets a new, enviable job which allows her to receive bonuses.
Her and Ginger are at ends because of the new job but Lorde is determined to make more money from her bonuses, which sadly causes strife and tension with Ginger and the other workers and is the catalyst to her firing.
Lorde expresses her burning desire to go to Mexico and her discomfort with living with a progressive white woman named Rhea. Moving on from Ginger, Lorde begins to have a relationship and later sex with Bea but she cannot help but compare the lovemaking with Ginger’s, which was more mutually passionate and satisfying. Bea proves to be displeased and unaffected by their lovemaking, which frustrates Lorde and causes her to be more determined to please her. Bea tries to win her back when Lorde suddenly breaks up with her and Lorde is more determined to go to Mexico and goes solo.
Reaching Mexico, Lorde is amazed and in awe with Mexico. The author reveals her
excitement as she explores a new city and likes how there are other “brown faces.” I like how Lorde notes this; though she feels isolated in NYC for being black, in Mexico, Latinos come in every shade of the rainbow, so Lorde must have been comforted by that.
While in Mexico City, she is mistaken for Cuban and meets a fellow America, Frieda who pushes Lorde to move to Cuernavaca because it was cheaper. Lorde is determined to move and still take college classes. I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter and because of Lorde’s descriptive writing, I was able to perfectly picture Mexico through he eyes.
While in Mexico, Lorde highlights her meeting Eudora, who is reporter and another fellow American. Audre is awed by Eduora’s accomplishments and appreciates how much older, wiser, and independent she is. Lorde learns more about Eudora’s crazy and interesting life, which is that she is an alcoholic and survived breast cancer. Despite that moving to Mexico was not about romance, Lorde desires to be with Eudora because her fascination with her allows her to move forward. When engaging in sex, Eudora is embarrassed over her scars but Lorde does not care. While together, Eudora notes the brutal history of Mexico and aids Lorde in exploring Mexico. Eventually, Lorde departs to America and leaves Eudora in a turbulent and perplexing parting.
In this chapter, Lorde expresses her loneliness about being black and gay . Unable to look to others to learn how to live by example, Lorde struggles to adjust. The author does eventually find a niche in the city, where other black lesbians can band together.
Through Lorde, we get to know more about the gay community and terms and idioms thy use. Lorde also highlights how she was almost raped by a black man and the reasons why she has kept her hair natural.
Lorde meets up with Muriel, who used to work with Ginger at the factory. Lorde reveals how her and Muriel bond over both losing friends in high school. The author does not understand Muriel’s fascination with gay bars, which the reason is most likely because she was not from the city. Lorde works at new job as an errand girl for a woman in an accounting department and at first, Lorde is awed by the woman’s success but eventually is annoyed by her unfairness.
In this chapter, Lorde’s roommate Rhea has not figured out Lorde is gay but realizes something is up. Though Rhea is progressive, she cannot approve of homosexuality. The author realizes she is not attracted to Rhea and Lorde discusses how her and other lesbians try to guess if another woman is gay or not. Ultimately, Rhea is in denial about Lorde and Muriel but becomes upset when she discovers them together. Rhea is distraught that her “right” relationship failed and Lorde’s “wrong” relationship is successful. Rhea leaves to Chicago and leaves Lorde with the apartment.
Finally getting a job she actually likes, Lorde starts working at the library.
Lorde highlights her growing relationship with Muriel and mention Muriel’s schizophrenia. Despite Muriel’s warning about her it, Lorde asks her to move in and she eventually does. Lorde discusses how it was a big decision adjusting to no longer living alone. Lorde also mentions how Muriel believes that all lesbians have the same experience, which Lorde disagrees.
Lorde mentions how when letting Lynn into their home, they approach the subject of a threesome. Lorde initially feels guilty for being attracted to Lynn and questions whether it is okay despite her loving Muriel. “Communal sex” is difficult as they adjust to the new concept because they lack guidance to this new experience but Lynn eventually leaves and took their savings with her.
In this chapter, Lorde makes a decision to go back to school and start therapy. Going through rough times because of money problems, her and Muriel need to steal food occasionally. While visiting her family for Christmas, Lorde notes how her family does not acknowledge her and Muriel’s relationship. Lorde compares hers and Muriel’s relationship with friends Joan and Nicky, another lesbian couple. The couple is more refined but do not throw “fun” parties.
Lorde acknowledges how she is an outsider even amongst lesbians because she is Black.
While at a bar, Lorde becomes irritated when a white friend talks about how she is jealous of her tan. Lorde eventually confronts her about it and discusses the risks she takes by being herself. The author also mentions that the standard for “femme” beauty in lesbian community is defined by white male ideals. Lorde is despondent that she is an outsider within lesbian groups because she is neither femme enough nor butch enough.
In this chapter, Lorde is reluctant to cut therapy but she needs to because of expenses.
Lorde notes Muriel having a hard time finding work and that her mental health is declining. Seeing a friend from high school, Lorde chats with Toni, who is more successful than her despite being younger but is not out of the closet at work. Lorde notices the changes in Muriel and is glad that she appears happier but is destroyed when she realizes that Muriel has been cheating on her. Lorde is so upset that burns herself at work.Muriel cheats again and leaves to live with Joan and Nicky and when seeing Muriel again, Lorde notes her decline in mental health and how Muriel eventually goes back home to Stamford for an experimental program for her schizophrenia.
Discussing lesbian culture once more, Lorde talks about how clothes “broadcasted” a lesbians sexual role. There are specific articles of clothing femmes and butches wore are designated looks. Meeting up with Kitty once more, who she meet two year prior, Lorde reconnects with her and forms a budding relationship with her. Kitty eventually leaves and never sees Lorde again, which deeply affects her.
In this final chapter, Lorde discuses how all of relationships she had with women have impacted her life and affected her in their own special way. Lorde highlights her life afterwards: finishing library school, opening her home to help shelter people, and pursuing her writing.