Although Audre Lorde calls the narrative of her life “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name” (1982) a ‘‘biomythography,’’ suggesting a fabulously embellished, perhaps mythological approach to the biographical tradition, Zami is anything but. In many of Lorde’s other texts, she provides the audience with a litany of her identities, of who she is, oftentimes carrying the label of warrior, mother, lesbian, and woman popular expressions of her own identity in her works. Among her most popular texts published within Sister Outsider, Lorde announces ‘‘I am standing here as a Black lesbian poet,’’ ‘‘I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist,’’ and, ‘‘as a forty-nine-year-old Black lesbian feminist socialist mother of two, including one boy, and a member of an interracial couple, I usually find myself a part of some group defined as other, deviant, inferior, or just plain wrong’’. It is this indivisibility of the multiple aforementioned identities that renders Zami a biomythography, her unique positionality remains impossible to classify in any other genre. In designating Zami a biomythography, she claims that only this new category of writing will contain all her identities and therefore allow her to express them comprehensively. Lorde’s biomythography provides a means of wholly representing what she experiences through her multiple identities as a Black lesbian woman, refuting tradition rhetorical form and objectivity to reaffirm a radical Black lesbian narrative.
Zami, as Lorde communicates, comes out of a tradition of African American narratives but because Lorde is also a lesbian, her writing cannot fit into the available African American autobiographical forms without gaps. While there is a growing tradition of lesbian writing and storytelling, there is no literary tradition for specifically Black lesbian writing. In the case of Zami, neither the autobiography nor the novel fits her particular condition. Thus, Lorde writes a “biomythography”, communicating her comiong of age story as a Black lesbian woman. By fusing the autobiographical and novel forms, Zami creates a narrative presentation of an identity that has not historically used these forms to demonstrate itself. Zami cannot fit into generic literary categories because Lorde herself does not fit into those identity categories exclusively. In Zami, it is the merging of black, lesbian, and woman that makes fitting in and adhering to a tradition of autobiography impossible. This is the ultimate grievance of Zami, that the combination of a woman’s Blackness and her lesbianism means she fits in nowhere, she is always an outsider even within marginalized groups. This uneasiness, the inability to find a resting place in any category, is expressed in the text’s preoccupation with home.
Zami opens with reference to and a longing for the mythological home, representative of her lifelong search of a safe space catered to her and other queer Black women’s intersectional identities. The home that Lorde conjures at the start of her story is not one which she ever occupied, but the one her parents came from. It is the place that Lorde envisions and dreams of returning to, separate from her “temporary abode” in Harlem. Lorde acquiesces, “This now, here, was a space, some temporary abode, never to be considered forever nor totally binding nor defining, no matter how much it commanded in energy and attention. For if we lived correctly and with frugality, looked both ways before crossing the street, then someday we would arrive back in the sweet place, back home”. Her 'temporary abode' in what she refers to as is not a comfortable location, the ugliness of racism clouds Lorde's childhood. 'As a very little girl,' she recalls, 'I remember shrinking from a particular sound, a hoarsely sharp, guttural rasp, because it often meant a nasty glob of grey spittle upon my coat or shoe an instant later'. In her Catholic school, 'the Sisters of Charity were downright hostile. Their racism was unadorned, unexcused, and particularly painful because I was unprepared for it,' Lorde says. And when her family takes 'a Fourth of July trip to Washington D.C., the fabled and famous capital of our country,' the racism that greets them alienates Lorde profoundly from her homeland. As a Black girl in racist America, Lorde describes “feeling like an only planet, or some isolated world in a hostile, or at best, unfriendly firmament'. Lorde’s dual isolation from her home in white America and her mother’s homeland of Carriacou necessitates the creation of a safe space, a new home. Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza describes a similar conflict of finding this home.
Anzaldúa is explicitly political in her description of her childhood home, using her own experience as an emblem of the Chicana experience. Anzaldúa states, “I am a border woman. I grew up between two cultures, the Mexican and the Anglo (as a member of a colonized people in our own territory). I have been straddling that tejas-Mexican border, and others, all my life”. This border “es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds,” says Anzaldúa. “This is my home / this thin edge of / barbwire”. The “border woman”, as described by Anzaldúa is to be “alienated from her mother culture, ‘alien’ in the dominant culture,” with the result that she “does not feel safe within the inner life of the Self'”. Anzaldua, like Lorde, uses her literature, her autobiography to serve as a home in a world that has dispossessed her. “If going home is denied me,” Anzaldua states defiantly, “then I will have to stand and claim my space, making a new culture una cultura mestiza with my own lumber, my own bricks and mortar and my own feminist architecture”. Whereas Lorde physically leaves her mother’s house in Harlem and symbolically deserts her attachment to and desire of Carriacou to join a community of lesbian outsiders, seeking 'some more fruitful return than simple bitterness from this place of my mother’s exile,”Anzaldúa searches for a community of outsiders in the borderlands.
Each of these memoirs describes adolescence as the time when the author, resenting the constrictions of the home into which she was born, begins to move out onto grounds of her own choosing, there to construct a home to suit her own sense of self.
For Lorde, home is a question not only of African American identity but of sexual identity, for there is no home for a Black lesbian, except in language. Zami is a text looking for language, seeking to define and illustrate what has not been said before. There is no genre that will accommodate all that Lorde wants to put into language; this is why it is not autobiography, nor fiction, but biomythography. This imagined, longed-for home is the primary myth of her biomythography. The home that Lorde finds, ultimately, is not geographical, but textual; she finds her home in language and importantly, in her own voice. Thus, Lorde finds a home not in a place, but in a name: Zami. This name encompasses her blackness and her queerness wholly: ‘‘Zami. A Carriacou name for women who work together as friends and lovers’’. It is noted in this description of the word “Zami” why Lorde wrote her biomythography; myths provide language for what is unknown, threatening, or otherwise unexplainable to the masses, such as in the case of black lesbian identities. In naming her text a biomythography, Lorde deliberately refutes objectivity and a traditionally ‘pure’ form as a means of reaffirming a radical tradition of Black lesbian feminist rhetoric.
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