When you search “Biomythography” on internet search engines, the first result that comes up will say it is a term coined by Audre Lorde to describe her book Zami. There isn’t much variance in the subsequent results, either.
Let’s pick apart the name in order to debunk this subgenre: biomythography. It is, at its core, biography. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition is “a usually written history of a person’s life” or “an account of the life of something.” Then, though, there is that key component: myth. Merriam-Webster defines this as “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon” or “a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially; one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society” or “an unfounded or false notion.” In biomythography, the distinctions are blurred.
It’s quite fitting. Zami tells the biography that Lorde knew from her mother as a child; it was truth. The myth comes from discerning whether or not Carriacou really existed, or whether her mother had just mixed up the name. Before she, 26 years later, finds it on a map, Lorde imagines it to be a “magic” place and “came to believe [her] mother’s geography was a fantasy or crazy or at least too old-fashioned” (14). The mythology of this place became safety for Lorde, but it also held truth, because even if it didn’t physically exist, it existed in her heart and mind.
In her essay “Audre Lorde’s Lacquered Layerings,” Kate King refers to Zami as a “rewriting,” telling both the individual and collective history. This idea is similar to what Faith Adiele writes in her essay “Writing the Black Family Home,” that her purpose was to “wield memoir as the corrective” (78). To set the record straight. To cement it in writing. King writes that “layers of meanings, layers of histories, layers of readings and re-readings through webs of power-charged codes mark biomythography” (68). That the job of the biomythography is to unravel and include all of them in order to tell the most rounded story possible.
Although Zami examines Lorde’s mother’s origin story, the rest of the book engages in conversation with Lorde’s black lesbian identity and power structure within lesbian relationships. This is what King explores in her essay. She observes that Lorde’s biomythography is “the layerings of instance, of political meanings constrained in particularity, lacquered over so finely that they are inseparable and mutually constructing while distinct” (56). That Lorde writes and then rewrites. To use King’s vocabulary, Lorde uses a structure of “ground/foreground, of dominant ideology/heterodoxy” which allows her to construct and reveal the complexity which occurs at “the intersection of race and sex” (57). Tugging at each of these threads will reveal one truth, one perspective, each one a little different. However, all of them together add up to what becomes the biography, give or take the myth. As King says (although she is speaking in regards to the power dynamics of lesbian relationships that persist in our language), “no unitary self resides” (61).
She argues that biomythography is not our truth simply and mundane, but “a writing down of our meanings of identity…with the materials of our lives” (62). We are the culmination of it all, and exploring that, teasing it out, is exciting, isn’t it?
Adiele, Faith. “Writing the Black Family Home.” 78-87. Print.
King, Kate. “Audre Lorde’s Lacquered Layerings: The Lesbian Bar as a Site of Literary Production.” New Lesbian Criticism: Literary and Cultural Readings. Sally Munt, ed. 1992. 51-74. Web.
Lorde, Audre. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Persephone Press, 1982. 3-14. Print.
“Biography.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 30 March, 2017. Web.
“Myth.” Merriam Webster Dictionary. 30 March, 2017. Web.