On Editing Sister Love

I heard tell of the correspondence between Pat Parker and Audre Lorde before I sat down to have brunch with Martha Dunham. Dunham was Parker’s partner and the mother of Anastasia, the daughter that Marty and Pat parented together, until Pat’s death when Anastasia was only six years old. That brunch, back in 2013, was the beginning of a journey of working with Parker’s literary production and bringing it to life again in the world. At that brunch, Marty and I were talking about publishing a volume of her poems. I simply wanted to reissue Jonestown and other poems, a collection I cherished as a young woman. At the brunch, Marty said that she had at least fifteen boxes of Parker’s papers, including some unpublished work. I knew immediately that what was in front of me was a much larger project. She also said that she had the complete correspondence between Parker and Lorde. I could barely wait to read it.

A few months later, I was in Marty’s house reading Parker’s papers. In the years since then, the Schlesinger acquired Parker’s papers (which Angela Davis recently mentioned in reports of her own papers going to the Schlesinger) and two books have come out of my work with Parker’s materials. The Complete Works of Pat Parker gathers her published poems with her essays and two plays. Both of the plays were unpublished—and I still would love to see staged readings or performances of the poems. Now Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker 1974-1989 is available from booksellers everywhere.

Sister Love is a slim volume of correspondence between two poetic luminaries. In the introduction, Mecca Jamilah Sullivan describes it as a “stunning volume of letters between Audre Lorde and Pat Parker [that] carries that breathlessness of urgent listening, the thrill that sparks when learning is both demanding and deeply sweet.”

As editor of Sister Love, I wanted to accomplish two things. First, I wanted the voices of Parker and Lorde to shine. The correspondence is wonderful, electrifying, intimate, joyful, sorrowful and so much more. I wanted readers to have these letters in their hands to inspire their own letter writing and to drive them to the poetry of both Lorde and Parker.

Second, I wanted to leave a trail to entice researchers, scholars, readers and activists to engage with the archives of Parker and Lorde and with the larger community in which they lived and operated. The trail is bread crumbs in the form of footnotes. Footnotes in Sister Love both explain references that contemporary readers might not understand and also suggest other spaces for research and scholarship. For instance, Ann Allen Shockley, Sharon Isabell and Andrea Canaan are three writers that make an appearance in Sister Love and that do not currently receive enough attention. There are also references to Parker’s trip to Africa, a feminist publisher in the Netherlands and Roadwork, a women’s arts organization based in Washington, DC.

Letters are moving documents of the interior and exterior lives of the letter writers; the letters between Lorde and Parker prove a moving example of the art form. Letters traveling between these two women also open new pathways to discovering poetry, feminism and the powers of Black lesbian-feminism.

Listen in to the conversation.

p1030388-150x150Julie R. Enszer, Ph.D., is a visiting assistant professor of women’s studies at the University of Maryland. She is writing a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2000 and is author of Sisterhood and Handmade Love. She is editor of Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She has her MFA and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. She is the editor of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and a regular book reviewer for the Lambda Book Report and Calyx. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.

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