Callaloo 23.1 (2000) 52-63
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Above the Wind:
An Interview with Audre Lorde
Charles H. Rowell
Part 1: In the Family
This interview was conducted by telephone between Charlottesville, Virginia, and St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, during the morning of August 29, 1990.
ROWELL: Here on the mainland of the U.S.A., there are those of us who miss seeing and talking with you, and hearing you read your work. And we are concerned about you in your new environment. Will you talk about your stay in your new home in the U.S. Virgin Islands? How has it been? Why did you go there? Is being a writer there the same as being a writer on the mainland?
LORDE: Being a poet here is a very different experience from being a poet on the mainland, but poets become part of any community out of which they operate, because poetry grows out of the poet experiencing the worlds through which she moves. St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a very different environment from New York City, from Staten Island. Why did I come here? After three separate bouts with cancer it became very clear to me that I had to change my environment, that I needed a situation where I could continue my work for as long as I was blessed to continue it, but without having to face the pressures of New York. I needed to live my life where stepping out each day was not like going to war. Not that we are not always involved in the war which continues; it will continue until we are all free. But on the level of locks on the door, dealing with subways, traffic, winter cold, shoveling snow--I no longer had the physical stamina to do that as well as my own work. These are some of the reasons I had to leave the Northeast.
Coming to the U.S. Virgin Islands was a combination of many things. I was raised, Charles, in a West Indian household; my parents came from Barbados and Grenada. I talk about this in Zami. As children, in New York City, we were raised to believe that home was somewhere else. Home was Grenada or Barbados. My parents had planned to come to the U.S.A. for a little while, make some money and then go back home. That dream never materialized for them, but they raised us with the idea we were just sojourners in this place. There was an American culture, there were American people, but they were not us. We were just visitors, and someday we would return home. I think that was both an asset and a liability for me when I was growing up. I have always had this sense that the Caribbean was a place where someday I would live.
A group of Black women called the Sojourner Sisters invited me down to St. Croix in 1980, for a conference on violence against women, and I was instrumental in bringing about the formation of the St. Croix Women's Coalition, a counseling and advocacy community group focused upon domestic violence. I read my poem "Need, a Chorale for Black Women's Voices" [End Page 52] at the conference. I returned almost yearly to meet with these women, and then to take part in the First Conference of Caribbean Women Writers, held in 1986 in St. Croix and organized by the Sojourner Sisters. I had a chance to come back here after my second cancer surgery in 1987, and I decided this was where I would like to live and continue my work. God knows the war continues here in many different faces.
This is a Black Caribbean island which exists in a frankly colonial relationship to the United States, and the issues this raises for us as Blacks and as people of color, anti-racist and anti-imperialist, cannot be underestimated. The Virgin Islands has a considerable, although relative, power that is not being used; at the same time, we...