Zami A New Spelling Of My Name Summary and Study Guide

Audre Lorde

Zami A New Spelling Of My Name

  • 78-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 31 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with an MFA in Creative Writing
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Zami A New Spelling Of My Name Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 78-page guide for “Zami A New Spelling Of My Name” by Audre Lorde includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 31 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Racism and The Magic of Femininity.

Plot Summary

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name is a biomythography concerning the coming-of-age of poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992). This work of creative nonfiction conflates the author’s memoir—which spans from the time of her birth to her early twenties—with West Indian mythology and stories, as well as the author’s own poetry. In this way, the work exists as something other than a simple autobiography, as it emphasizes the importance of dreams, stories, and songs within the authorial development of identity.

Born to West Indian immigrants, Lorde grows up as a black child in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s. The book follows the exploration of her identity as a lesbian in the 1950s. Being a black lesbian, the author never feels like she belongs, both as a black woman in an overtly racist and misogynist America and living as a lesbian in an era prior to the word “lesbian”being regularly used. Even though Lorde knows, from childhood, her predilection for women, she has no language with which to express her identity. In this way, the title, Zami—the Carriacou name for women who work side-by-side as friends and lovers—substantiates Lorde’s identity in language, as language itself represents an integral aspect of the author’s identity.

As a child, Lorde did not speak until she could read. Throughout her life, reading and writing became an increasingly important mode of self-expression. Indeed, even as a young adult, Lorde finds communication difficult; she feels as though she can never truly express her thoughts and feelings, as though the expectations of other people always hold her back. In this way, creating a new spelling of her name is integral to her self-expression and her coming-of-age, cementing a position for herself within an openly-hostile society.

Crucial to this bildungsroman is the idea of home; namely, the idea that home is a place that is intangible to the author. The child of immigrants, Lorde believes that her home is not in New York City, but rather in the country of her parents’ birth. In this way, the idea of home becomes mythologized, existing as a place that Lorde cannot reach. This intangibility of home reflects upon Lorde’s own identity: a home is a place where one belongs, and Lorde has never felt like she has belonged, even within her parents’ house. As such, Lorde conflates her quest for identity with her desire to find a home, merging disparate realities in order to create a place in which she feels as though she belongs. Lorde makes her home from a community of women from whom she finds strength and commonality, realizing that the stories of her childhood can be reinterpreted within the reality of her own life.

The narrative arc of this biomythography follows Lorde’s relationships with women. First, the audience witnesses the narrator’s tumultuous relationship with her mother, with whom Lorde feels much closer than her father. Throughout her childhood, Lorde has few friends, and many of her interactions are based off of this maternal relationship. As an adolescent, Lorde befriends many other girls her own age, such as The Branded, a group of mostly white outcasts in her school who bond over their shared otherness, and Gennie, Lorde’s best friend, who commits suicide before her 16th birthday. With these relationships, Lorde begins to understand her desire to be romantically involved with women, which leads her to her first sexual encounter with Ginger when Lorde is eighteen. Lorde’s narrative then oscillates between the overwhelming loneliness of a lack of female companionship and the recounting of her various sexual/romantic relationships. These relationships include the older Eudora, who Lorde meets during her escape to Mexico; her live-in partner, Muriel; and, eventually, her relatively short but psychically-intense fling with Afrekete. Throughout each of these relationships, Lorde learns things about herself and becomes more self-confident.

In the background of this biomythography lies a variety of complicated historical contexts that alternately shift and remain the same over time. Growing up, Lorde must face the impoverished reality of the Great Depression as her parents try to eke out a living in a new land. Lorde’s childhood is also mitigated by the rationing and fear resultant from World War II. Subsequently, Lorde’s adolescence and early adulthood are doused in the paranoia of the Red Scare. Amidst the conformity of the 1950s, Lorde finds herself politically and sexually at odds with the rest of American society, although she eventually learns to embrace these differences. Throughout the narrative, the racism systemic within American society reinforces Lorde’s feelings of otherness and impedes her ability to make a home for herself. Once she identifies as a lesbian, she struggles simply to survive within a society that is openly hostile to her. In this way, the book becomes a story of survival against all odds.

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