Esther Newton
(SUNY-Purchase) and
Shelly Eversley (Baruch
compared notes on
teaching Audre Lorde
at the April 18
Pedagogy Workshop cosponsored
and NYU’s Center for
the Study of Gender
and Sexuality. Newton,
an anthropologist, teaches
Lorde in the context of an
Intro to Lesbian and Gay
Studies course, in a college
where the students are
predominantly white;
Eversley, a literary scholar,
teaches Lorde in a course on
Black Women Writers, in a
college where a majority are
students of color (and in a
class where all but one
student is a black woman).
Newton’s students loved
Lorde’s Zami; Eversley’s
hated it. But as they spoke
about their strategies for
teaching this text, they found
much common territory. For
starters, Newton reported that
her pupils’ adoration of the
book was often a superficial
appreciation for it as “a
simple, honest story” that
stood in their way of
analyzing the constructed
nature of the protagonist and
the text as a whole — one
Lorde called a
“biomythography” after all.
Eversley’s students,
meanwhile, were disturbed by
the “motility of identity” put
forth in Zami as well as by
its frank descriptions of
sexuality. Workshop partic –
ipants offered some of their
own approaches to teaching
Lorde in English composition,
women’s studies, and other
courses. One noted that
CUNY students, and others
at “commuter schools,” often
have complicated negotiations
to make with texts like Zami
beyond the challenges of the
text itself. CUNY students
take their books home, she
said, often to households with
family members who have
never encountered such