Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
|Finished||March 27, 2021|
|Rating||4.9 / 5|
Audre Lorde writes a biomythography of her life - part memoir, part coming-of-age story. Lorde, who was a Black lesbian feminist growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, constructs her own story of her own life, and it is obvious in the characteristics and elements she highlights in this book. Rather than letting the outside world dictate what parts of her life must have been important, she chooses to tell her story in her own way. One way this was very obvious to me was her focus on a diverse array of complex and flawed female characters, and only mentioned male characters in passing. This was very striking to me, because I have read so many books that were the opposite (i.e. mostly male characters, the only female characters mentioned in passing as auxiliary characters; think of literally EVERY 20th century coming-of-age story). This is not a book written to please, convince, or empathize with a white male audience; this is a book written to share her story in the way that she wants to share it. I did appreciate how every male character in this book is auxiliary - be it lovers, fathers, or friends.
One of my favorite scenes in the book was in the beginning when Lorde discusses her mother's mortar and pestle and sexualizes it for several pages. ("The muted thump of the pestle on the bed of grinding spice as the salt and pepper absorbed the slowly yielding juices of the garlic and celery leaves" (84)) Within that section, Lorde mentions about how her period started, including a humorous retelling of how she thought she was pregnant for four years because her period had never started (showing the natural results of lack of transparency of sexual education), and mentions, in the most off-hand way, how she was raped when she was ten years old. Then she goes back to talking about the mortar and pestle for another two pages. This was such a good example of Lorde reclaiming her narrative. In her eyes, her mother's mortar and pestle was a greater influence on her identity than the rape; by not focusing on the rape or its consequences, she is saying that this event did not dictate or create her. She is not a result or a byproduct of maleness and their dominating influence, whether neutral (father) or negative (the rapist); she does not define herself by these masculine figures. Rather, she defines herself by the strong, complex female characters in her life: her mother, her lovers, her friends, and yes, even the mortar and pestle.
She describes this well in the scene where she sees Eudora for the last time:
"I was hurt, but not lost... I felt myself pass beyond childhood, a woman connecting with other women in an intricate, complex, and ever-widening network of exchanging strengths" (205).
This entire book follows this thread of her network of women with whom she has exchanged different forms of strength.
I also found so relatable Lorde's tellings of how she had trouble fitting in during her younger and adolescent years. I am obviously not Black or lesbian; but the fact that she was one of few Black people in her school, and that she was one of few Black women in her circle of lesbian friends later in life, really resonated with me (as the only Asian woman in Louisiana for a long time of my life. And also, in many other circles of my professional career as well). And what it means to be an outsider within an already-outsider group (i.e. being lesbian AND Black within a lesbian community). Lorde was too unconventional even for her unconventional community (lesbians) and I really vibe with that. She describes the few Black women in the lesbian bar -
"For me, going into the Bag alone was like entering an anomalous no-woman's land. I wasn't cute or passive enough to be 'femme'; and I wasn't mean or tough enough to be 'butch'. I was given a wide berth. Non-conventional people can be dangerous, even in the gay community" (266)