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Zami, a New Spelling of My Name

4.19  ·  Rating Details ·  9,372 Ratings  ·  396 Reviews
Lorde's self-named "biomythography"
Paperback, 256 pages
Published January 1st 1982 by Persephone Press
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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mark monday
in college, in the late 80s and early 90s, i discovered that i had two aunts. this is one (and this is another). aunt Audre intimidated me at first. she was a stern, moody, melancholy woman who had lived a life of so many ups and downs. but as i got to know her, her innate gentleness became clear. this was a woman with so much empathy and understanding for the people around her. this was a lady who had felt pain in her life and would be able to understand my pain as well. she told me stories of ...more
Zanna
I did not know this was a book about love.

More than anything, more than about New York City in the '50s, more than being Black and gay and poor and female in that uneasy time, more than about the sensuality of food and the precise pleasures of style, more than about hustle and poetry and Audre's fraught relationship with her mother and the longing for an unknown home, for Granada and Carriacou, it is about loving women.

I must add that these things are not separable. I cannot in any kind of fait
...more
Aaron
Mar 23, 2007 Aaron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Audre Lorde's beatiful autobiography of her child- and early-adulthood. She's been prized for her "sensuality" in writing but this is no chicklit - her account of the lesbian bar scene in 1950's America will fascinate anyone interested in these forgotten pockets of culture. After reading it, what most amazed me about her was her unpretensiousness and her willingness to expose herself completely. Few writers have been so insightful when talking about themselves.
Shanna Hullaby
Aug 11, 2014 Shanna Hullaby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My new favorite book. Lorde tells all the secrets I was too afraid to tell in language more eloquent than my dreams.
Jonathan
Nov 24, 2016 Jonathan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites


My second time reading this, the first being many years ago as an undergrad, has reinforced my love for this book, and my love for Lorde herself, her prose, poetry and essays (all of which you should go check out).

She is right about so much, and so much of what she says we desperately need to hear in these broken and divided times.

These are not from this book, but I share them anyway:

"Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution,
...more
El
I went into this book knowing very little about Audre Lorde other than she was a black, lesbian poet. I may have read some of her poetry back in college, but I am shocked Zami wasn't assigned reading at the time.

My parents were not West Indian, I am not a lesbian, I didn't grow up in Harlem in the fifties, I wasn't alive during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I didn't have to leave the country because of McCarthyism (although I'd like to leave for not dissimilar reasons). And yet this book spoke to
...more
Holly
Very easy five star rating. This is phenomenal. The language is beautiful and the exploration of her identity as black, female and lesbian is fascinating. Seriously, go and read it. It will make your heart sing.
Nathan
I really wish I could teach this one day, but because I don't live in some sort of fantasy utopia I have to recognize that no PTA would ever leave me unscathed for choosing a book that talks so candidly and so beautifully about homosexuality, abortions, and loving blackness. It's a shame because I know that as a high schooler I would have enjoyed Zami infinitely more than the musty old fodder by dead white men I was assigned.
Alissa
Dec 03, 2014 Alissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: female-writers
I've always felt a real affinity for the poetry of Lorde's writing, and somehow this was the only book of hers I could find at the library. Whoa. Absolutely beautiful, gripping language. The lyricism that transforms sex into love. The beauty of learning about yourself from the joy and pain of relationships. I would read this over and over again, bathe in these words and the honesty and the reality of this.

This is also just a phenomenal cultural document, a portrait of queer life in the middle o
...more
Vincent Scarpa
I clearly stand alone in thinking this, and that's fine, but parts of this book were torture for me to get through. Especially in the latter half of the book, wherein Lorde invents 1000 different ways to say she loves a cavalcade of women who, by the end, I truly couldn't tell apart. I can appreciate the craft at work here, and that Lorde has a talent for language and is probably a great poet, but I just couldn't find a way to care about her life. I don't think her perspective is as unique as sh ...more
Alexa
Jan 31, 2016 Alexa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fab-16, woc-16
This reads like a wonderful novel, engaging, enthralling, and compelling. I loved reading it! Her deft storytelling about what it meant to be Black, female and gay, to be an outsider in every way, was completely enthralling and yet beautiful in its interwoven political consciousness-raising. Her pain, her love, her glory, her otherness all scream from the page. And then her poetry winds its way cat-like in-between our legs as we are captivated by her life.
Jimmy
"We're both going to make it because we're both too tough and crazy not to!" And we held each other and laughed and cried about what we had paid for that toughness, and how hard it was to explain to anyone who didn't already know it that soft and tough had to be one and the same for either to work at all, like our joy and the tears mingling on the one pillow beneath our heads.
Have you played the privilege game? You all stand in a line, and the host asks you to step backwards if you've ever felt
...more
Mik
Aug 26, 2007 Mik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everybody
Shelves: memoirs
Audre Lorde recounts the first half of her life in an amazing blend of her own poetry, popular songs, journal entries, and memories that are startling in their exactness and fairness. Her ability to recount her extreme loneliness and desire for companionship at being Black in gay scenes, gay in Black crowds and female and working class in the U.S. Her amazing sympathy for the women and men whom she loved and hurt/was hurt by is a testament to her desire to create great networks and bridges betwe ...more
tom bomp
Jun 14, 2012 tom bomp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes I found the descriptions of everything around her beautiful, sometimes tedious. Sometimes i appreciated her honesty and frank descriptions of her feelings for other women, sometimes I found them voyeuristic and out of the scope of my understanding.

But ultimately it made me cry a little and when she talks about how much she's looked down upon for being black even past being lesbian it's heartbreaking, even if sometimes it gets obscured by a litany of names I can't connect and descriptio
...more
Stephanie Spines
Aug 25, 2013 Stephanie Spines rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, own
If I could wrap myself in a book and hideout forever, I'd do so with this book. Mother Audre has the most gorgeous writing style.
Vicky
Aug 03, 2010 Vicky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ardith, Patricia, but of course anyone
I think it was Justin who told me that reading this book made him want to scream, and at the time, I was only familiar with two books of Audre Lorde's poetry, so I didn't know that her prose could punch like this. Not that I was not expecting it, but maybe I was limiting in my image of her as a poet. It's not so much that this "biomythography" punches, but it builds the heat up in your body as you read, which gives you the kind of energy necessary to do something because you could die your death ...more
Susanna Sturgis
Being a feminist bookseller and a huge Audre Lorde fan, I read Zami for the first time as soon as it came out in 1982. Though Lorde was a masterful poet, it was her prose -- particularly Zami and the essays collected in Sister Outsider -- that challenged me most and took up permanent residence in my head. I reread her "biomythography" after Lorde died in 1992 but hadn't opened it since, though it had a permanent place on my bookshelves. Then I picked up a second copy at my town library's annual ...more
Jamie
Dec 10, 2008 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt, undergrad
Audre Lorde's "Zami" is a mixed bag of a book, so to speak. A friend warned me that it was amazing until she leaves college in the book, and after that, it's a bit yawn-tastic and circular. I tend to agree with him, though I wouldn't call the second half of the book boring--just less colorful, so to speak, which is funny because it's in the second half that all the love affairs and gay bars and shitty jobs arise. But Lorde's prose is fluid and enjoyable to read, she paints portraits of presumabl ...more
Sean A.
Jan 31, 2013 Sean A. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
audre lorde is a helluva lady. this is a passionate fiercely real and intelligent memoire, of yes, a black lesbian coming of age in the 40s and 50s. in this memoir, or biomythography, as lorde refers to it, you get only the first 21 years of her life, but geez, what a 21 years it is.

would be an interesting counterpoint to the beat version of 50s new york bohemia, especially since they so glorify the white male perspective.

my only miff with this book is when she describes her girlfriend with schi
...more
Raeesa
Sep 20, 2013 Raeesa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Biomythography" is a perfect word for this amazing story. Audre Lorde takes you on a beautiful, painful journey of love, lust, identity, and self-discovery.

She forces us to question ideals of beauty and sexuality. More importantly, she frames the book around the many women that framed her life - each one splendidly complex and real.

After reading this book, I began to reflect on my own relationships and evaluate the people who have shaped me, wrongly, rightly, and everything in the grey. A boo
...more
Columbus
Jul 11, 2009 Columbus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are certain books you read where the mere mention of the name evokes a strong positive reaction from you. It sort of takes you to another place. This book does it for me. Just an incredible piece of writing and storytelling with some of her excellent poetry added in as well. Just a brilliant woman, extremely creative and this biomythography that she has created is just crazy-good. Well done, Audre -- well done!
Wendy G
Aug 07, 2010 Wendy G rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful "biomythography" by one of my heroes, Curacao-born lesbian poet, essayist, activist, and teacher Audre Lorde. This book explores Lorde's childhood, her memories of her family and neighborhood, early education in New York, and her multidimensional connections to women. It is beautifully and creatively written.
Ben Kim
Feb 18, 2012 Ben Kim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mystical, poetic, surreal. Lorde encapsulates in this modern magical realist narrative a hauntingly beautiful image of black lesbian life in the late 20th century. It is a classical work of queer literature post-stonewall, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the history or sociology of queer people of color.
Manika
mother of all. outstanding writing filled with love, nostalgia, eroticism, sensuality, poetry, beauty and so much more.
Karl
Oct 06, 2014 Karl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: alatt-recommends
Essential reading, IMO.
Marjorie Jensen
Feb 13, 2017 Marjorie Jensen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another (fantastic) book that I read for my U.C. Berkeley teaching assistantship.
Lisa M.
May 14, 2012 Lisa M. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5252, memoir
Title: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
Author: Audre Lorde
Structure: 31 chapters
Pages: 256
Plot: This “biomythography” details the first twenty-five years or so of Audre Lorde’s life. Lorde’s parents are immigrants from Grenada. Her mother is extremely strict, and her father is distant. Lorde grows up with very bad eye sight and a love of reading. As she grows up, she begins to realize she is an outsider due to her race and sexual attraction for women. As an adult Lorde goes to various classes, j
...more
Sara
Jan 19, 2016 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lives
Every woman I have ever loved has left her print upon me, where I loved some invaluable piece of myself apart from me - so different that I had to stretch and grow in order to recognize her. And in that growing, we came to separation, that place where work begins. Another meeting. [...]
Zami. A Carriacou name for women who work together as friends and lovers.


I'm glad I read this book before reading any of Audre's poetry or essays. There are passages here where she blends essay, poetry and experi
...more
Lisa
I found this to be an embarrassingly honest and graphic account of Audre Lorde’s life and loves and as such it's hard to write any criticism - and feels kind of wrong to, really; because her choices are hers to make – whether or not I agree with or understand them –some parts I liked – such as the acute insight into what it was like to be growing up as a black lesbian in 1950s America, much of which seems to be sadly still relevant – but mostly Zami made me feel quite uneasy and confused. This b ...more
Luanne Castle
Dec 13, 2014 Luanne Castle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I didn’t think of this book as a memoir when I read it in grad school. I was immersing myself in the work of Lorde for a possible chapter in my dissertation. Unfortunately, Lorde passed away of cancer while I was in grad school. She was 58 years old. This chapter never got finished, although my dissertation did.

Lorde wanted readers to think of this book–as a biomythography. In it she writes about her origins, as a Caribbean child growing up lesbian in Harlem, and she writes about some of the wom
...more
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Lorde's poetry was published very regularly during the 1960s — in Langston Hughes' 1962 New Negro Poets, USA; in several foreign anthologies; and in black literary magazines. During this time, she was politically active in civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements. Her first volume of poetry, The First Cities (1968), was published by the Poet's Press and edited by Diane di Prima, a former cla ...more
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“I cried to think of how lucky we both were to have found each other, since it was clear that we were the only ones in the world who could understand what we understood in the instantaneous manner in which we understood it.” 23 likes
“You loved people and you came to depend on their being there. but people died or changed or went away and it hurt too much. The only way to avoid that poin was not to love anyone, and not to let anyone get too close or too important. The secret of not being hurt like this again, I decided, was never depending on anyone, never needing, never loving.
It is the last dream of children, to be forever untouched.”
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