Cheryl Clarke

American writer

Cheryl L. Clarke (born Washington DC, May 16, 1947) is a lesbian poet, essayist, educator and a Black feminist community activist.


  • For a woman to be a lesbian in a male-supremacist, capitalist, misogynist, racist, homophobic, imperialist culture, such at that of North America, is an act of resistance.

Interview with Feministing (2014)

  • When I read Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation by Dennis Altman in 1972, I came to understand the relationships among systems of oppression, issues of power over and enforced powerlessness–like my friend in her abusive marriage; or like African-Americans living in Mississippi particularly prior to World War II; or gay people trying to avoid detection in a government job during the McCarthy fifties. I got more involved in feminist thinking when I first came out as a lesbian in 1973, when I met up with black lesbians in a group called Salsa Soul Sisters, and through white lesbian friends of mine in New Brunswick, N.J.
  • Lately, I find myself even more committed to feminism, especially for young women. I see it as something that could possibly save one’s life.
  • As I said often about the Black Power/Black Arts Movements: we need our history, our culture, our literature. And this is what a whole multicultural generation of lesbians engaged in the 1980’s – creating cultural institutions so that we could live our lives with determination, decision, and yes, of course, pride.

Interview with outhistory

  • I would say to young people about putting your body on the street, having never done that myself in any way that endangered my life, assess the purpose and the goals. Is the gesture symbolic--if so is it worth risking arrest or endangering your life? The March on Washington was a grand symbolic gesture. And television--the parent of the Internet--revealed a sea change in American opinion about injustice on the basis of race. A national conversation about racial injustice began with the March; and it hasn't really stopped, though it goes out of fashion for some. Now, if only we could have a national conversation about slavery.
  • I would also say to young people, be among people as you make your decisions about the way you fight injustice, because the struggle should not be a solitary, individualist endeavor. I don't believe courage springs full-blown like Athena from the head of Zeus (pardon this descent to the Greeks.). I think it has to be developed. Develop your courage in concert with others who share your longing for change. I gained the courage to live as a lesbian because I saw other black lesbians out there in the street talking about Pride.
  • (What lessons would you pass on to young LGBTQ activists?") Learn your limits. Also, what other strategies of dissent are in operation besides the "putting of one's body on the street"? Should you be engaged in registering voters in areas where there is historic discrimination and repression, radical blogging, educating others and educating yourself about radical life choices, feeding the hungry where no one else is, confronting lawmakers who are doing the opposite of what you put them in office to do, working at local levels?

Quotes about Cheryl Clarke

  • Certainly, in the Black literary community in particular, those of us who are Black Lesbian writers are frequently, as Barbara Smith recently said with her characteristic wit and pointedness, "the 13th Fairy." Who's the 13th Fairy? That is the godmother who is always forgotten, who is not invited to the ball, or invited too late. Black Lesbian writers are very frequently the "13th Fairy" of Black arts. For example, look at the writers invited to present at the recent Black Arts Festival held in Atlanta...The Black Lesbian-bashing that takes place in the Black Arts Movement is notorious, and I don't have to discuss that here, or discuss the origins of it, but the fact that it still exists when our communities need cultural workers of vision so much is terribly wasteful. When I talk about battling silences, battling invisibility, battling trivializations, I am not only speaking about fighting them in the white literary establishment. If establishment Black male writers cannot see that Barbara Smith and Cheryl Clarke and Pat Parker and I are their sisters in struggle, and that we fight on the same side, then the question is, "What are we fighting for?"
    • 1990 interview in Conversations with Audre Lorde (2004)
  • the Gay and Lesbian community contributes to this invisibility. What do you think it means when Lambda Rising, Washington D.C.'s Gay bookstore, that says it "celebrates the Gay experience," takes a full page ad in Blacklight and does not include one single title by a Black Lesbian? Should Barbara Smith, Pat Parker, Ann Shockley, Cheryl Clarke and others, laugh or cry? It's not only the literary establishment that renders us invisible.
    • 1984 interview in Conversations with Audre Lorde (2004)
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