This essay considers Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982) as an example of the neoliberal turn to memoir that both complicates and exemplifies important aspects of the relationship between literary form and ideological expressions of racial and sexual identity. By examining a hitherto un-noted omission from Lorde’s memoir, the death of Emmett Till, this essay illuminates the political significance behind Lorde’s choice to narrate Till’s death in the form of a poem while conspicuously omitting it from her prose memoir. Incorporating a broader selection of Lorde’s work, and comparative analysis with other poetic responses to Till’s death, this essay shows through this example how the intense personalization of an historical event can formalize the embodiment of an essentialized, and thus timeless, racial identity. As such, Lorde’s work demonstrates how literary form can both communicate and obscure paradoxical aspects of contemporary racial ideology by rationalizing the embodiment of racial difference in the post-Civil Rights world.
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