English, Department of


Date of this Version

September 1991


Published in The Kenyon Review 13:4 (Fall 1991), pp. 195-213. Copyright 1991 Barbara DiBernard.


As feminist critics, we cannot continue to ignore differences in race, sexuality, and class when we write about women; we should heed Adrienne Rich's critique of her own earlier work, that she will never again write of the "faceless, raceless, classless category of 'all women.'" Aware that my work will be partial and limited, I would like to explore Audre Lorde's Zami as a portrait of an artist as a black lesbian. In doing so, I hope to suggest areas where we must open up our conception of the female Kunstlerroman so that we are taking account of Lorde's black lesbian experience, yet without generalizing in such a way as to erase other women's experience. Although Zami is largely autobiographical, I feel I can appropriately use the literary categories of the Bildungsroman and the Kunstlerroman in analyzing it. Lorde herself says of the book: "It's a biomythography, which is really fiction. It has the elements of biography and history and myth. In other words, it's fiction built from many sources. This is one way of expanding our vision."

In Zami we find an alternative model of female development as well as a new image of the poet and of female creativity. The image of the poet as black lesbian encompasses continuity with a familial and herstorical past, community, strength, woman-bonding, rootedness in the world, and an ethic of care and responsibility. The image of a connected artist-self who is able to identify and draw on the strengths of women around her and before her is an important image for all of us to consider. What we learn may be as significant for our individual and collective survival as it has been for Audre Lorde.