Creativity Tip: Best Way to Confront ‘Intense Contradictions’ As An Artist

Poets Melanie Henderson, Patricia Spears Jones (a friend/mentee of Audre Lorde) and I after a panel discussion on Audre Lorde’s influence. Photo by Tracy Chiles McGhee

This past Saturday, I served as a moderator for a panel discussion following a film screening of a documentary on the life the incomparable poet Audre Lorde. Audre Lorde is the role model of many creatives like myself who have been inspired by the life she led as a poet and activist– often using her poetry as her vehicle of activism.

The documentary, Audre Lorde: A Litany on Survival by Ada Gay Griffin contained numerous interviews with Audre Lorde, as well as her speech following when she was named New York poet laureate in the early 1990’s before her death from breast and liver cancer. In the speech, she speaks of how her award is one of “intense contradictions” as she stands before them as a black female lesbian during a time of intense activism in all three movements– for black people, women and gay rights. Here she was being recognized publicly for all that she was, while all that she was was still steadily fighting for rights and respect in the greater spectrum of the world.

As artists, we are often reaching for that which is often the “intense contradiction” of artistry itself. We want recognition often from the very places that seek to conform us into the art form that we do or from the society that fails to recognize and respect all parts of who we are. Think of award shows like the GRAMMY awards that have limited categories for music– either lumping artists into genres that don’t consider the multi-faceted dimension that their work showcases or either disregarding them altogether when their music has no discernible demographic it appeals to. The intense contradiction of wanting recognition and wanting to be free to create no-holds barred is a conundrum that every artist faces, yet few are able to fully reconcile.

My advice is to put your artistry first, seeking not the recognition and applause of others, but seeking the contentment found in expressing your artistic voice.

Today’s Affirmation: Often, the very act of expression is revolutionary, ultimately garnering the attention that you least expected. Be free and revel ever so loudly as you exist as an intense contradiction.

Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a writer and editor of several books, including the anthology Liberated Muse Volume I: How I Freed My Soul.  She offers editing, proofreading and creative coaching services to authors who self-publish. Contact her at for a free consultation.

Read other Creativity Tips by Khadijah:

Self-Publishing 101

#1 Pitfall Artists Should Avoid

Choosing the Artist Stage Name

5 Tips to Rejuvenate the Artist Spirit


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