Tag Archives: American Masters

Black History Month 2014: Alice Walker

9 Feb

Alice WalkerWhat better day to honor and pay tribute to Alice Walker than today, her 70th birthday?  Happy Birthday, Ms. Walker! She was born in 1944 in Putnam County, Georgia — between Atlanta and Augusta. Walker attended Spelman College in Atlanta, where she had the amazing Howard Zinn as one of her professors.  Walker reports that Zinn helped influence her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Walker’s support and admiration of Zinn also meant she, like Zinn, would have to leave Spelman. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965.

I fell in love with Alice Walker in 1983, when I read The Color Purple, a novel that has such amazing pain, grace, humility, and forgiveness.  The movie version was released in 1985 and — while different from the book — was also a wonderful experience that I love. On a side note, I have to say that I was crushed when Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey were robbed of an Academy Award for their respective performances. Then I read Meridian (a brilliant quasi-autobiographical book addressing her activism in Mississippi during the civil rights movement), and was equally captivated by Walker’s voice. In Possessing the Secret of Joy, Walker takes on the issue of female mutilation/circumcision.

Walker does an amazing job of addressing intersectionality, the multiple layers of identity people carry and the potential barriers people face because of those real or perceived identities. In her books, Walker manages to challenge racism, sexism, homophobia, and all of the other isms people face. I dare say, I feel more complete as a human being just for having read her work. Walker’s breadth of work demonstrates great compassion for gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. It is difficult to read her novels and not end up at a better place than where you started. My dear friend, Debbie Mix, read one my favorite poems by Walker at my wedding. The poem is:

Beyond What

We reach for destinies beyond
what we have come to know
and in the romantic hush
of promises
perceive each
the other’s life
as known mystery.
Shared. But inviolate.
No melting. No squeezing
into One.
We swing our eyes around
as well as side to side
to see the world.

To choose, renounce,
this, or that –
call it a council between equals
call it love.

I also read this poem at Debbie’s wedding.  Keep the good energy rolling and read some Alice Walker. Gratefully, there is a lovely documentary on PBS (American Masters) celebrating the gift that is Alice Walker.

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