Read the Resistance, March 2018: Sister Outsider
For this month of Read the Resistance, an online book club that highlights written works of and about resistance, we asked Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko, a National Book Award finalist, to recommend a book that exemplifies resistance to her. Her pick? Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. Join Lee and Baker for a discussion about the book on March 27.
“In 1988, I was a sophomore in college, and I became very ill,” said Lee. “I went home for winter break and learned that I could not get out of bed. Worried, my mother took me to the doctor. Since high school, I had been an asymptomatic chronic Hepatitis B carrier, and it turned out that I was now sick and needed to rest. The famous doctor at school said that I would likely get liver cancer in my 20s or 30s. He said it plainly, and he was so clear in his manner that I just nodded, resigned to the idea that I would die young.
“Around the same time, my friend Dionne Bennett gave me a book by Audre Lorde called Sister Outsider for my birthday. Dionne and I are born just a few days apart in the month of November, and she and I’d become close as we regularly attended Women of Color meetings at the Women’s Center at Yale. We also took literature classes with the brilliant bell hooks. Dionne is an African American from Los Angeles, and I am a Korean American from Queens, and though we came from opposite sides of the country, we found sisterhood through our growing intellectual lives, and we remain dear friends in our middle-age.
“It is curious to think of two young women so focused on heady ideas, but we were serious and idealistic girls. Dionne told me to read Lorde’s essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” and this essay changed me—shy, careful girl—forever. I must have read it several dozen times in college and again in later years when I was terrified to say the very things I believed. Lorde had been suffering from liver cancer and wrote about it in her work, and I felt connected to her sense of mortality. If I had to die, I wanted to be a brave thinker. Lorde inspired me to be far more aware of how I lived my life and how to think.
“Audre Lorde died on November 17, 1992, six days after my birth date and two years after I graduated from college. Unlike all the other authors whose work I have loved and whose lives were lost, her death felt very personal to me. In my late 30s, I was fully cured of liver cirrhosis through a six-month trial of Interferon-B, and on November 11, 2018, I expect to turn 50. Whenever people ask me the name of my favorite novel, I say Middlemarch without a glance. I would not be a novelist without George Eliot, and I would not be a feminist without Audre Lorde. The world grows smaller and better when we allow ourselves to learn from the best, and I would be honored to share Lorde with the next generation of feminists.”
About Min Jin Lee
Min Jin Lee’s debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was a No. 1 Book Sense Pick, a New York Times Editor’s Choice, a Wall Street Journal Juggle Book Club selection, and a national best seller; it was one of the Top 10 Novels of the Year for The Times of London, NPR’s Fresh Air, and USA Today. She has received the NYFA Fellowship for Fiction, the Peden Prize from The Missouri Review for Best Story, and the Narrative Prize for New and Emerging Writer. Her fiction has been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts and has appeared most recently in One Story. Min Jin went to Yale College, where she was awarded both the Henry Wright Prize for Nonfiction and the James Ashmun Veech Prize for Fiction. She attended law school at Georgetown University and worked as a lawyer for several years in New York prior to writing full-time. From 2007 to 2011, Min Jin lived in Tokyo, Japan where she wrote Pachinko (2017), a National Book Award finalist. She lives in New York City with her family.
About Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde was not only a famous poet; she was also one of the most important radical black feminists of the past century. Her writings and speeches grappled with an impressive broad list of topics, including sexuality, race, gender, class, disease, the arts, parenting, and resistance, and they have served as a transformative and important foundation for theorists and activists in considering questions of power and social justice. Lorde published nine volumes of poetry and five works of prose. She was a recipient of many distinguished honors and awards, including honorary doctorates from Hunter, Oberlin, and Haverford Colleges, and was named New York State Poet (1991–1993).
About Jennifer Baker
Jennifer Baker is a publishing professional, creator/host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, and contributing editor to Electric Literature. She was formerly social media director and writing instructor for Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop and previously served as panels organizer and social media manager for the nonprofit, We Need Diverse Books. She currently volunteers with the nonprofit I, Too Arts Collective to preserve the Langston Hughes brownstone in Harlem. In 2017, she was awarded a NYSCA/NYFA Fellowship and Queens Council on the Arts New Work Grant (as well as their award for Artistic Excellence) for Nonfiction Literature. Jennifer is also the editor of the forthcoming short story anthology Everyday People: The Color of Life with Atria Books.