June 19, 2014

Auckland Writers Festival 2014: Alice Walker

Guest post by Ella, Readers Services, Central City Library.


The great author and activist Alice Walker came out on stage to a standing ovation which she received graciously. Alice Walker is clearly used to provoking a strong reaction. She was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, but in her words “not the first to deserve it”. She is a polarising figure, considered by most to be a national treasure, but one whose radical politics and individual worldview challenge the norms of conventional society.

Alice Walker’s most famous novel The Color Purple was much acclaimed, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Award in 1983, but has always been controversial and was censored throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. These days the book is a modern classic, but to Walker’s bemusement it is still banned in North Carolina. She suggests she may go down there herself and ask them why. She seems to be joking but she’s a person so strong in her convictions that I wouldn’t be surprised if she really did.

Walker’s powerful stage presence was striking and had me fascinated from the moment the interview began. Selina Tusitala Marsh was a wonderful interviewer and really got a lot out of the author. You could tell that there was a lot of mutual respect between the two women. Their discussion covered a wide range of topics from the writing process and personal growth, to global issues such as the environment and world politics. Feminism, particularly the role of indigenous women, was a key part of the conversation.

Walker is a self-described “democratic womanist” which means that she’s dedicated to making changes for women through government, and by helping people of colour and the poor. Walker thinks that the only way to do this is through the creation of a radically different political system and the inclusion of women in politics. For Walker it is a type of “feminine wisdom” that the world needs to tune in to in order to live on this planet without destroying it. She talked about women’s circles as a mode of engaging with other women and the community to make positive change happen. “Womanism” is Walker’s term for a specifically African-American brand of feminism. The term is related to the word “womanish” that she describes as denoting a kind of “sauciness or bodaciousness”. “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” she says.

Alice Walker has a holistic view of the planet, and Buddhism is very influential on her philosophy. Gardening, walking, silence and contemplation are all important parts of her life and her creative practice. Meditation has become an important part of her writing process, which she recommends to everyone. Walker turned to transcendental meditation after a divorce which she described as a time of “intense suffering” and meditation was something that helped her to “connect with something real”, and gain consciousness, as well as find out what really matters in life. Walker has always had a love of story and believes in the magic of writing and its power. It is through her writing that Walker is able to share this “consciousness”.

Alice Walker is a rebel and Selina Marsh asked her where she got this willingness not to conform. Walker responded that she has always felt that she had a right to be herself. She compares herself to a mango tree. A mango tree cannot bear any other fruit, but why would you want it to? A mango tree can never be anything but a mango tree, why ask it to be anything else? It is this attitude that makes Alice Walker such an inspiring individual. She rounded off the hour by giving the audience some sage advice. “Hard times require furious dancing!”. It was a privilege to hear her speak at the Writer’s Festival!

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 00:45
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2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this Karen! I wish I could've been there to hear and see it myself, but I wasn't, until I read your blog! Thank you again:)

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    Replies
    1. That's why we do it! Hope you enjoy some of the other Festival write-ups too! Lots of inspiring women -- yeah okay, men too :)

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