In "Zami: A New Spelling of My Name," poet Audre Lorde has written a text she calls a "biomythography." I think of "biomythography" as a literary form that blends elements of autobiography, the novel, and personal mythology. But however you define the word, "Zami" is a powerful and beautiful text which illuminates the life of an African-American lesbian in the mid-20th century.
"Zami" begins with the young Audre and her parents, a Black immigrant couple who had settled in New York City. Lorde writes in detail of her cultural heritage from the Caribbean island of Grenada. From her childhood in Harlem to her young adulthood, the book is full of fascinating episodes and poetic language. Lorde's description of using her mother's traditional mortar and pestle to grind spices in the Caribbean style is a particular tour-de-force of sensuous language.
Lorde describes the roots of her life as a poet. She also vividly recalls what it was like to be a young Black lesbian in the 1950s. This particular aspect of "Zami" gives the book a special historical value. Lorde's narrative captures many of the cultural and political particulars of that era.
Audre Lorde attained a distinguished literary reputation as both a poet and essayist. But serious readers of Lorde must not miss her extraordinary "biomythography." This is an essential American life story which ranks up there with those of Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Jacobs, Malcolm X, and other important figures. Whether you're interested in the Caribbean-American experience, African-American literature, lesbian studies, or mid-20th century United States history, you will want to explore "Zami."
In this book Audre Lorde writes, "Every woman I have ever loved has left her print upon me." If you read "Zami," Lorde just might leave a lasting print upon you.