You Should Go: Lesbian Herstory Archives Marathon Reading – Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich

Feature image by Kathryn Kendall via the Lesbian Herstory Archives

The Lesbian Herstory Archives will be hosting a marathon reading this Saturday, November 17, from 12pm-12am to celebrate Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich, “whose work and presence as poets, theorists, activists and teachers inspired decades of anti-racist, feminist, and lesbian feminist thought and activism.” Each hour will be facilitated by a different organization, who will read from their poetry and essays, as well as Audre Lorde’s biomythography, Zami, and Adrienne Rich’s autobiographical reflections, Institution of Motherhood. The event organizers also encourage people to share their memories and thoughts, so that in celebrating these two important, remarkable women, we can also celebrate the impact they have had and continue to have on our community.

via the Lesbian Herstory Archives

According to event organizer Shawn Smith, the response so far has been incredible. “People have been extremely excited to convene at the Archives, sit with other lesbians, friends, families, women who were there, women who were affected, and read from the words of Audre and Adrienne,” she said.  “We received an email from Adrienne Rich’s son thanking us for doing the event.  This is after receiving a phone message and letter from Audre Lorde’s daughter, thanking us for placing her mother’s collection in the care that it deserves, and for the hard work that we do.”

Smith expects a “renewed relevance to arise” through the merging of community voices with the voices of Lorde and Rich. One of the most exciting parts of the event, she said, is that original audio clips from the LHA collection will be played at the  beginning of each hour, featuring the writers reading their own work.

Event organizer Alexis Clements adds that she’s hoping the event will give her and everyone who attends the opportunity to gain an intimate, personal understanding of Lorde and Rich through the personal testimonies of people who knew them. “I really crave that deeper sense of people’s humanity these days,” she said. “Not necessarily ‘warts and all,’ more like, don’t forget they laughed and loved and had families and made mistakes while they were fighting.”

Some of those personal testimonies will come from LHA co-founders Joan Nestle and Deb Edel. According to Smith, “Although Joan is in Australia, she wrote a very personalized essay which will be read in the first hour detailing her personal experiences with Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich, and how they were each instrumental to the curation of the Archives in the early days… Joan describes Audre’s donation of boxes that were pulled from under her mattress, while Audre’s at the time, very young son waited quietly by the door, peeking in.”

Other facilitators include SAGE, members of the Archives’ own Lesbian Studies Class, In The Flesh Magazine, Black Women’s Blueprint, Alicia Anabel Santos and New York City Latina Writer’s Group, The Belladonna Series, R. Erica Doyle, brooklyn boihood, Rivers of Honey, Kelli Dunham and Queer Memoir. The full schedule is on the event page, so if you are like me and unlikely to appear anywhere at noon on a Saturday, you can figure out which facilitators you want to arrive in time for.

There were approximately 60 cute, nice Autostraddlers at the meet-up at the LHA last month, most of whom had never been to the Archives. If that many of you showed up to watch me overcome my fear of public speaking to give a tour to more people than I ever have before (ok, maybe you didn’t know that’s what you’d be getting, but it’s what you got, so), think about how great THIS event will be! According to Clements, many of the people associated with the event have never been to the Archives before either, so it’s going to be a great opportunity to build community.

There’s a suggested donation of $5-$10 at the door, but no one will be turned away. The organizers hope to raise three thousand dollars for the Archives, which is an all-volunteer organization that needs funds to preserve and digitize its artifacts.  “Both Audre and Adrienne have been advocates of the LHA’s existence, the preservation of lesbian herstory, and the space as a home for us to share our stories,” said Smith, and in that spirit, the Lesbian Herstory Archives is as much a part of the event as the women being honored. Clements added, “Every time I’m there I am reminded of the fact that the simple act of preserving and displaying this herstory is a steadfastly political act, particularly in a society that in so many ways works so hard to diminish the lives and voices of women.”

You can visit the event page for more information, and RSVP on Facebook (but you don’t need a Facebook to come). I hope to see you there!

The Lesbian Herstory Archives is located at 484 14th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215.

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Gabrielle Korn

Gabrielle Korn is a writer living in Los Angeles with her wife and dog.

Gabrielle has written 95 articles for us.


    • Can you point me to where you read Audre Lorde was not transmisogynistic? I noticed with alarm that she’s included in a radical feminist anthology (Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis) & I’m a bit wary of even steering towards that text to see if Lorde says anything transmisogynistic.

    • Being a lesbian does not magically endow you with a hatred of all things trans. While I don’t know what Lorde’s personal beliefs towards trans people might have been, the reason why she did not share the radfems’ transphobia is simple: black feminists (and/or womanists, as Lorde preferred to be known) were not allowed in the radfem movement, or really the mainstream second wave movement at all.

      There racism may not always have been as explicit as there transphobia, but it was always there.

      In response to Dena, it’s a laughable rewriting of history to pretend that Lorde was in any way a member of the radical feminist movement. While she may have privately held transmisogynistic views (I don’t know), she did not publicly advocate for discrimination against trans women to be made one of the top priorities of the feminist movement and that puts her heads above her white contemporaries.

      • Disclaimer: I do not agree with radical feminism, so please don’t read this as an endorsement/defense of radfems

        From what I understand radical feminism to be, transmisogyny is only a slice of that particular kind of feminist pie (although the most vocal and damaging and hurtful parts). A few of the tenants of radical feminism is anti-pornography, anti-penis in vagina sex, and anti-BDSM due to these power structures acting upon the Female body in negative ways (their terminology, not mine). Therefore, Lorde could be considered a radical feminist due to her anti-pornography stance & anti-BDSM work. She was in discourse with radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin, and yes, while I completely agree with you that Lorde despised the striations of the white feminist movement and radical feminism to me seems as a largely white movement (at least during Lorde’s lifetime), I don’t want to erase Lorde’s activities or stances. She was in staunch opposition to pornography as a male-created product for the male gaze, but instead believed that through he power of the erotic that women could reclaim their own power that had been suppressed by eurocentric forces.

        Sorry, I just have a lot of Audre Lorde feelings and needed to get that out.

        • This isn’t to say that Lorde herself identified as a radical feminist, just that she did work within that realm of feminism & I think it’s important we acknowledge that and critique it.

    • I’m not an expert on adrienne rich but as far as I know the only thing to suggest she was transphobic is raymond crediting her. Did she ever actually do/ say anything herself to suggest she was? Because being credited by somebody who has been inspired by you/ your work doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with them.

  1. So it’s possible to deduce where in the world this event is taking place by following some links, but in general, can we get some city location info on the main pages of event promo posts so that we don’t get psyched out about events before realizing they’re a plane ride away?

  2. Adrienne Rich is nothing more than a transphobe and a bigot. Your celebration of her, without even a single mention of her hateful ways, is shameful.

    • You see, I feel like this approach is limited. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest expert on Adrienne Rich. But it’s plain to see that she was an enormously significant figure in the development of feminist and lesbian discourse. And while, yes, it was unpleasant to me to read about her involvement with The Transsexual Empire, I also feel like her poetry and theory inspired and mobilized many feminists who did *not* turn out to be transphobic. So there’s that.

      Unfortunate as it may seem, transphobia seems to have been pretty widespread during the 70s, even among people who considered themselves radical. Hell, it’s still going on today! But that doesn’t discount any of the valuable work done by people who were, or may have been, transphobic- it just gives us a blueprint for how *we* can do better, while still remaining true to the core values of the theory. At the end of the day, our favorite writers and theorists’ work will always be problematic- as will ours, to later generations- and that’s just something that we have to deal with.

      Take Audre Lorde. As was mentioned in a comment above, she was involved in feminist anti-BDSM and, if I recall correctly, anti-porn discourse, which is not something I support. But a lot of her theory remains very relevant to me, and so I simply qualify my admiration of her better work with an acknowledgement of the writing I disagree with. Many of my favorite feminist theorists have all sorts of political flaws, but that doesn’t make their work any less valuable or relevant.

      • On the subject of Audre Lorde’s anti porn and anti BDSM stance… why does autostraddle never print articles that explore different views than ‘sex positive its all good’? I love you so much but I would love you even more if different points of view were allowed on here w/r/t porn/bdsm etc!

        • Because one of the core principles of AS is “you do you” and a stance against a woman’s agency and ability to participate in porn or engage in BDSM would not really be giving people space to do as they saw fit.

          I am not aware of people objecting to posts that focus on a person’s own *personal* feelings on whether *they* opt to engage in porn or BDSM and I hope there’s space here for that too.

          • An article that is critical of the beauty industry doesn’t need to condemn the models who make money from doing advertisements for lipstick etc.
            So why would an article about the porn industry’s exploitation of women’s bodies condemn those who work in the porn?
            ‘You do you’ is nice but I don’t think the fact that some women like porn means we should stop talking about the vulnerable women who suffer in the industry, or that porn is harmful to women as a group – even if individual women enjoy it.
            I’m sorry but I’m sick of hearing that a few rich women chose to do it therefore it’s all good. Women who are poor/ did not get opportunities in work and school because of sexist systems will enter porn because they don’t have other choices. Women’s contracts are ignored in porn all the time and they are forced to do things they do not want to do and did not agree to do.
            Women who consume porn support an industry that is harmful to women and I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t because the truth might hurt their feelings.

          • Your examples exist in all forms of industry and labor – contract fraud, exploitation, trafficking. Why is porn the special snowflake?

          • for starters in most other industries contract fraud doesn’t mean rape…
            and the finished product – porn – objectifies women, which harms all women in turn.

          • This is for Marie: for some reason I am not able to reply to your comment. Where do you draw the line of objectification & the consumption of porn as supporting an industry that is harmful for women? Does something like The Crash Pad series contribute to objectification even though it is made by queers for consumption by queers? I’m genuinely curious, because I’ve seen stances similar to yours where activists are advocating for no more violent, gonzo porn (which I’m all for btw), but don’t seem to acknowledge that there are alternative pornographies out there and instead call for an abolition of the ENTIRE porn industry. What about pornography that is directed and produced by women? Does this still have the same ramifications? If I pay for porn that has organic orgasms and alternative lifestyle haircuts, am I still contributing to this porn industrial complex you’re speaking of?

            I ask because in the rhetoric I’ve encountered re: anti-pornography, I haven’t seen these viewpoints acknowledged at all.

          • I think that it is precisely because some of the women in the porn industry are so vulnerable that we need to be careful to critique particular exploitative behavior within the industry rather than critiquing the industry as a whole and shoving the entire thing further out of sight. Sex work of all kinds is a fact. It seems best to celebrate the best of that industry and try and pull the entire field out of marginalization and into the light of day where women who work within it have a voice and an outlet to discuss their issues. The alternative seems to be further marginalize of the field as a whole and resulting in us hearing even fewer voices than we hear today.

            The voices of sex workers that I’ve been exposed to and those of my friends who are sex workers seem to agree that the sex positive approach is generally a positive thing for sex work and prefer that stance to anti-porn and related stances. I think it would be interesting to hear from voices in the sex work community would prefer another approach and I think those voices should be considered very carefully, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of them. Have you? If so, I’d love links and perhaps autostraddle should seek to give those voices an outlet.

            And for what it’s worth, I share your frustration that white cis well-off sex workers tend to be the more visible and louder voices in the sex work advocacy community and sometimes appear to often speak for other people that perhaps they shouldn’t.

  3. i’m really bummed that i’m going out of town on saturday and will miss this event. thanks for always keeping us abreast of what’s going on at the archives, gabrielle — it’s truly an underused/under-visited resource for young queer girls in nyc.

    i also heard a lot of requests for another autostraddle event at the archives from grrrls at our brooklyn picnic meetup who hadn’t been able to make it to the original one — let’s talk about this and make it a reality, yes/yes?

  4. Whoa. So much fighting above over a good cause…

    Sort of off-topic, but public speaking jitters are like monster under the bed, they aren’t there if you don’t think about them. Try drinking some tea (but not so much that you want to pee), and keep smiling even if you are in of daze. I really enjoy your posts on this site, and if your writings are of any indication, I am certain you will conduct a great tour of the Archives too. :)

  5. I’m really glad that we are critiquing the women who came before us from the 2nd wave, but I feel that their views that we find objectionable get incredibly overblown. We are holding women from a completely different era to the standards of today, which is such a different environment than the ones they found themselves reacting to. 2nd wave is 2nd wave is 2nd wave. Writing off these women for their outdated views would be like saying that women from the 1st wave were all shitty people because they didn’t include PoC in their movement.

    I am not trying to excuse anyone’s obvious transphobia or racism or anti-sex views. My point is that we cannot write women from the 2nd wave off because they are a product fo their time. Audre Lorde said a lot of amazing things in the 1970s that are what we would call intersectional, which is a relatively new concept within 3rd wave (and beyond) feminism. None of them were or are perfect, and we have to recognize and own up to that, and in turn learn from it. If they’re transphobic, well then don’t be. Make sure trans* women have a place and a voice within your feminism. Include PoC, be sex positive, learn and adjust.

    There are no perfect feminists and I think we forget that we owe these women for what they did, for continuing the traditions of feminism, bringing them beyond suffrage and into our modern age. Is it flawed? Yes. And that’s okay. We can point out their flaws without it canceling out everything positive they’ve done. Without them, there might not be an Autostraddle to begin with. So yes, critique them but don’t write off all of their work because they’re flawed people.

    • Just to speak for myself: I usually hate involving myself in conversations such as these. I don’t enjoy being a whiny bitch who pisses on everyone else’s campfire.

      She was a an extremely talented poet whose work inspired others to fight for great causes. Of course she was a product of her time, as we all are, and she shouldn’t be judged solely by failings that were extremely prevalent at the time.

      But I hope it’s clear why I wouldn’t be joining in the celebration of the life of someone who thought people like me were inherently rapists and ought to be excluded from women’s spaces, particularly in a world where people still widely despise and ridicule trans women. Even queer women’s culture, where I desperately wanted to belong for as long as I knew it existed, has rarely, if ever, helped me feel included as an equal. It’s not digging at scars–the wound is still fresh.

      There’s obviously nothing wrong with celebrating her work and its impact, and I hope the reading event goes wonderfully. I just feel condescended to when I’m told which way the balance of the good with the bad should be struck, especially since that’s clearly a subjective thing.

      • “a product of her time” isn’t an excuse for what she did. There were plenty of cis feminists that supported trans women during that time. That excuse is invalid.

    • There were plenty of trans women who were involved in the feminist movement and views like those of Adrienne Rich contributed to their physical assaults, death, etc.

      I will not sit here and support a woman who ignored a large portion of the feminist movement. The second wave of feminism was EXACTLY when the transfeminism movement started. I will not sit here and support her, Mary Daly, Janice Raymond, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, etc. Leaving behind a group of individuals is not feminism.

      There is nothing to celebrate about her.

  6. (Northern) California people!
    There’s gonna be a huge Adrienne Rich memorial reading here in Santa Cruz (where Rich lived) on December 2nd. A number of pretty top-notch activists/feminists will read. Also, it’s free! So if you’re somewhere close to the bay area, it’s only an hour and a half or so from SF, and well worth the journey.
    (it’s hosted by the bookshop I work at, so lemme know if you want deets)

  7. Ah, yes. Yet another post on Autostraddle that supports transphobic lesbians. Why do I still read you?

    In case you were wondering what the other post was, it was your support and coverage of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

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