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Biomythography in the Life Narrative and the Poems of Audre Lorde

[By Simone Savannah]

This semester, I am enrolled in Dr. Maryemma Graham’s “Life
Writing: Contemporary Autobiography—Theory and Practice Course”. Many of the
texts we have read this semester interestingly complicate the concepts of
autobiography and memoir. For example, Audre Lorde refers to her life narrative
as a biomythography. In “Self-Representation: Instabilities in Gender, Genre,
and Identity,” Leigh Gilmore writes, “…self/life/writing—is exchanged for the
terrain of biomythography” (27) in Zami.  That is, the text represents a space in which
“homes, identities, and names have mythic qualities” (27). Examining her text
closely, one can claim that biomythography is a combination of myth, history,
and biography.

Furthermore, the narrative and rhetorical strategies that
Lorde employs throughout Zami help to
present a mythic quality to her actual lived experiences. For example, when she
recalls a childhood experience, she writes,
My lifelong dream of a
doll-baby come to life had in fact come true. Here she stood before me now, smiling
and pretty in an unbelievable wine-red velvet coat with a wide, wide skirt that
flared out over dainty little lisle-stocking legs. Her feet were clad in a pair
of totally impractical, black patent—leather mary-jane shoes, whose silver
buckles glinted merrily in the drab noon light. 
(37)
Words, such as “dream” and “unbelievable” paired with the
intensity of the details that she provides about the girl’s outfit reinforce the
narrative as a biomythography. Some may argue that though real, meeting the
girl was also a mythic experience for Lorde. Some readers may also argue that
Lorde views the little girl as a myth, that though she existed, her
unbelievable qualities paired with Lorde’s dream of having a life doll make her
a mystic being.
Moreover, though Lorde seems to apply the term to her entire
text, I find that biomythography is most present in the original poems that she
includes in her narrative. The poems present a mystic self as they tell the
story of a “true” encounter. The poems written about her herself and romantics
relationships in particular seem to present a fantastical person and
experience. For example, the text reads,
I was the story of a phantom people
I was the hope of lives never lived
I was a thought-product of the emptiness of space
and the space in the empty break baskets
I was he hand, reaching toward the sun
the burn crisp that sought relief… (18)
Here, “hope,” “phantom,” “empty” and the phrase, “hope of
lives never lived” display the ways in which she mythologizes herself in the
text, and continues to develop her biomythography. Furthermore, myth seems to
an important quality not only to Lorde’s life narrative, it seems to be a
significant element of poetry outside of Zami
as well:
Love Poem
Speak earth and bless me with what is richest

make sky flow honey out of my hips

rigis mountains

spread over a valley

carved out by the mouth of rain.


And I knew when I entered her I was

high wind in her forests hollow

fingers whispering sound

honey flowed

from the split cup

impaled on a lance of tongues

on the tips of her breasts on her navel

and my breath

howling into her entrances

through lungs of pain.


Greedy as herring-gulls

or a child

I swing out
over the earth
over and over

again.
The speaker may or may not be Lorde and this poem is not
included in Zami; there remains a
mystic quality to the “I”.  One could
argue, then, that in writing a poem that occupies some sort of autobiographical
space, Lorde continues to present biomythography across multiple texts.
Throughout these autobiographical and/or “I” texts, she recalls personal
history (biography) as she recreates the self as a myth, especially through
relationships/interactions with others.