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  • NYS Writers Institute

Audre Lorde: "A Litany for Survival"

Here’s a poem from the late New York State Poet Audre Lorde, "A Litany for Survival,” which characterizes life as a state of permanent fear of personal extinction, even during the best of times, for members of vulnerable populations.

Despite this, the poem urges readers to find the ability to speak out and make themselves heard.

A Litany for Survival

By Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline

standing upon the constant edges of decision

crucial and alone

for those of us who cannot indulge

the passing dreams of choice

who love in doorways coming and going

in the hours between dawns

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

seeking a now that can breed


like bread in our children’s mouths

so their dreams will not reflect

the death of ours….

Audre Lorde served as New York State Poet under the auspices of the New York State Writers Institute by proclamation of Governor Mario Cuomo from November 1991 until her death from cancer in November 1992. (Read Gov. Cuomo's proclamation)

In 1991, Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl, then a reporter for the Times Union, covered the story of Audre Lorde’s investiture as NYS State Poet together with NYS State Author Norman Mailer.

In her acceptance speech, Lorde said:

“I accept this award in the name of all the poets, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, silent people of this state. For the poets who write on scraps of newspaper in homeless shelters, in prisons, in mental wards, on squalid reservations and after grueling hours of work.

I accept this award in the name of those folks who see and experience the enormity of the forces aligned against all that is human in all of us ... the ones who see all of this and still refuse to give in to despair."

From the NYS Writers Institute archives at the University at Albany.

Click to enlarge.

Just one year and four days later, Audre Lorde died at her home on St. Croix of liver cancer. She was 58 years old.


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