The Ruminations and Revelations
Alice Walker’s voice is stronger than ever.
Known for sharing her imagination and pioneering perspective with world through her writing, Walker is an activist at heart. She continues to use her sharp command of language to challenge the world’s transgressions. Her insight into humankind runs deep. Her resolve is graceful.
Marked by her own experience as a young black girl growing up in rural Eatonton, GA and her early adulthood as a student at Atlanta’s Spelman College, Walker’s interest in exploring the lives of black folks in the South manifested in her early novels such as, The Third Life of Grange Copeland and Meridian.
Widely recognized for her 1982 novel, The Color Purple, which earned her a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, Walker has published a variety of books spanning adult fiction, children’s fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. In 1983, her seminal nonfiction collection, In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose efficaciously centered black feminism and introduced the world to the then burgeoning concept of “womanism.”
Walker’s other works include The Temple of My Familiar, Warrior Marks, and her debut poetry collection, Once.
In her newest collection of poetry, Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart, she once again explores the complexities of human life--this time with a full Spanish translation. When she’s not writing more books, you can find her regularly updating her website www.alicewalkersgarden.com. We had the honor to speak with her about the new collection,
her life’s work, and so much more.
--- Auburn Avenue Editorial Staff
"There is no taking
the South out of the heart because that
is where the ancestors are buried."
Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart is your new book of poetry. What inspired its creation?
When I read my book Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart what strikes me is how deeply and consistently I am focused on the plight of children and their parents in places where our government has made war on them, either directly, or through proxy governments. It is the suffering of people globally that is a collective arrow in the heart of humanity. How have we sunk so low? How can we heal ourselves, and the planet?
The advice from our Tibetan ancestors and teachers is that we learn to take the arrow – of suffering, despair, hopelessness, fear – out of our own heart first, before attempting to bring down the archer who shot it. This involves a practice of noticing, on a deeper level than most people traditionally live, what our actual pain is. Accepting that we are suffering, and resolving to do something about it: first, by simply noticing it. And not letting distractions like eating too much, watching TV or Facebook entries, etc., get in the way of truly listening to, and hearing our deepest self. It is from the deep self that inspiration and instruction comes. We must resist oppression, of course, but we must be mindful of exactly why and how we must proceed. In other words, some form of consistent meditation is in order.
In our parents and grandparents’ day this centering of spirit was accomplished by frequent prayer.
The new collection is presented in both English and Spanish. Can you tell us a little about your fondness for the Spanish language?
I pay attention to my dreams. For many years I worked with a Jungian analyst, the great Jean Shinoda Bolen, and this deepened my ability to be instructed by dreams. In a dream many years ago I realized there were deep layers of consciousness beneath the layer that ruled my waking life. I dreamed I was in a new house I’d recently bought and that in the basement were all these Indigenous people creating beautiful things – and they were speaking Spanish. I knew it was a message I should pay attention to because it was extraordinarily vivid. I also realized I needed to learn to speak/understand Spanish, at least to some extent, to complete the dream’s purpose in real life. I therefore hired my daughter’s Spanish teacher and began lessons. This was the beginning of my longest novel, and the one that is most interesting, and curious, to me. The Temple of My Familiar.
I am far from fluent in Spanish, partly because I write so frequently in English, but I have lived part time in Mexico for a few decades now and can at least get around. The translator of Taking The Arrow Out of the Heart is Cuban. We met in the Eighties when I was in Havana for the launch of my third novel, Meridian, which he had translated into Spanish.
How would you describe your relationship with writing poetry vs. writing prose?
Poetry is a cat. Prose is a dog. Poetry comes and goes when it will. There is no such thing, for me, as planning to write a poem, no part of which has already arrived. You may plan how you will arrange your life so that you may be receptive. You might plan how you will work with it after it begins to form. But it is very wild, very willful. Always a road to discovery of what is most true for the poet. Prose can be planned. Not poetry. I love them both.
"I am now an elder. It is my responsibility to offer what I have learned to the tribe. Especially to those young enough and curious enough to want to grow."
Your work largely focuses on the complexities of human life--from enduring pain and sorrow to experiencing love and self-discovery. What is your take on the current human condition, particularly in America?
Our situation is dire because so much of America’s history as a colony/corporation/country is denied. Many Americans have thought of America as this marvelous free ride that the Universe gave them. They had nothing to do but come, disown their distinct ancestral inheritance, become a blank slate, i.e. white, and make “a good life.” With no responsibility to help solve the vast problems of the Indigenous and People of Color populations that were already here. The self-centeredness and greed have been breathtaking.
What to do now? Serious study is required. White people who have used race privilege must abandon it. Can they do that in time for it to make a difference? We shall see. Black and indigenous folks must learn to take better care of their physical and mental health.
We must all give up the idea that a leader exists outside of us who can save us. Saving ourselves is up to us. For black people a return to being more often in the company of our own people, and contributing to the flourishing of us all, is essential to maintain wellbeing.
Throughout the past several years we’ve seen a growing movement centered on women's rights, with increasing focus on amplifying issues specific to women of color. Some of your most recognized work involves black women finding their voices and navigating life's ebbs and flows. What advice would you impart to women writers, particularly women writers of color, in crafting their own stories or poems?
Write your own stories, out of your own lives, hopes, disasters, and dreams. They will then resonate with others around the world. We are far more alike than we are different. When I went to China in 1983 shortly after The Color Purple was published I was astounded that it was already an underground bestseller in China! I said to our host: How can this be? She said, “But Alice, it is a very Chinese story.”
Speaking of women writers of color, your affinity for Zora Neale Thurston is well known. She was from Eatonville, FL, you are from Eatonton, GA. You wrote the foreward to Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” released in May 2018, and chronicled the importance of her work in the past. What has examining Zora's life and writings revealed to you about yourself?
Something I already knew: I work for the ancestors. Of which Zora Neale Hurston is such a shining representative. It is simply my duty to do this work. Lucky for me I enjoy it!
Having grown up in Georgia, what lessons have you learned from the American South?
I learned that I will always love pecan trees and scuppernongs and sweet shrub bush (though I haven’t smelled this shrub since childhood). That there is no taking the South out of the heart because that is where the ancestors are buried. When I stand in the cemetery where generations of Walkers have been laid to rest I know, and feel, that I belong, as they now do, to the very earth in which we will all, one day, reside. It is the peaceful acceptance of belonging.
You've released over three dozen books including works of adult fiction, children's fiction, nonfiction and poetry. You regularly author posts on your official website that cover a range of domestic and international topics. After covering so much literary ground, what keeps you interested in sharing your perspective with the world?
The “world” might not be interested, actually, but some people might be. It is a way of sharing knowledge, information, confirmation, and celebration: a way to connect to those who are on the path of life and value companionship. I also comprehend the role of elders in a society. I am now an elder. It is my responsibility to offer what I have learned to the tribe. Especially to those young enough and curious enough to want to grow.
What they are likely to learn from me: the world is vast. People are amazing. Animals are also. Plants, incredibly so!
That to recognize one’s self as an Earthling, first, before country or race, sex or gender, is a step towards collectively saving Earth, by recognizing and honoring it as humanity’s common Mother.