White, Evelyn C. Alice Walker. W. W. Norton & Company Ltd. USA. 2004.

Despite the Hunger
the hunger
we cannot
in a garden
our own.

Alice Walker (2003)

This is more than a biography of a famous – still living and active – USA writer, poet and activist. It is a powerful history of the USA from the rare point of view of a woman, a woman of colour and an artist and social activist. The subject of the biography herself says Social Action is The Rent We Pay for Living on This Earth. All the rich and complex threads of a life lived with courage, creativity and honesty are woven into a rich tapestry in this skilful biography. White is a USA woman of colour herself, but is rumoured to be now living on Saltspring Island, BC; she has produced a wonderful tribute to a great writer of our time.

Overcoming gigantic obstacles of poverty, sexism and racism, Walker acquired her education, worked in the dangerous battlefields of the USA Civil Rights Movement, became a wife and mother, but never lost sight of her calling to writing or her roots and family culture. She was the first woman of colour to win the Pulitzer Prize, she worked with leading feminists on MS. Magazine and published novels and poetry. She lived through the traumas of injury, divorce and betrayal. She does it by, in her own words:

Expect nothing. Live frugally
on surprise.

Her readers and admirers are no longer surprised at her out pouring of creativity. Her novel,“ Colour Purple” was made into a box office success film and was followed by “Possessing the Secret of Joy”, a vivid story of a woman who has suffered genital mutilation. This book has spoken to millions of women and helped the movement against this cruelty.

The strongest affect this book had on me was the realization that Alice Walker is also a woman who has never remained silent in the presence of injustice. That is the most consistent quality in her extraordinary personality. She inspires me to speak up with clarity and firmness whenever I witness injustice – something I am both lax and timid about. But just after reading this I confronted a business man who was harassing a street person.

Walker has been criticized and vilified by people of colour and white establishment of the USA. She has learned to cope: “as an artist, you’re really just opening up your veins and bleeding for people.”. She has also been criticized for her open bisexuality, her ability to love and relate to people of all races and to passionately express her right to that love. For me she expresses this most powerfully in the poem:

Love is not concerned
with whom you pray
or where you slept
the night you ran away
from home.
Love is concerned that the beating of your heart
should kill no one.

I am a banner maker, the first banner I decided to quilt and exhibit in a quilt show on Hornby Island was the quilt bearing the last two lines of this poem. I did this before I read that quilting is an important art and a precious metaphor for her culture for Walker.

Filed under Book Reviews, Evelyn C. White