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Alice Walker Speaks at Emory

I had the pleasure resently to be invited to attend a reading by Alice Walker at Emory University. It’s been quite a while since I read anything from her (she’s most famous for “The Color Purple” but has many other writings out there) but I did recall enjoying her writings. I had no idea what to expect but the experience itself of hearing the thoughts and voice of the author as she read her own work was exciting to me.

To begin, I will say that she’s got the most soft-spoken yet engaging voice I’ve heard in a long time. The only other person I can think of that had this, a certain quiet confidence, a happiness with life and a life full of so many rich experiences, was with my late grandmother. This already had me at full attention (even though I was fighting a nasty cold that had me drowsy, sniffling, and generally miserable). She began the evening proclaiming herself as a pagan, lover of mother earth and explaining why she was giving her collection to Emory. Growing up in a small town in the south 60 years ago didn’t exactly afford her the “luxury” of being able to go to the library and read and learn at her leisure. That immediately struck a chord with me…I often think of the times as a child where I was so interested in this topic and that but unfortunately didn’t have the resources to fully immerse myself in them. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great childhood and a very supportive family that encouraged me to learn anything and everything I wanted…I’m just saying I would have enjoyed learning a few more languages, being a computer programming stud, and to have traveled the world. Who wouldn’t?

She continued on, reading an excerpt from this book, that poem, explaining the significance of each passage. I found it rather nice to hear her putting in the voices and inflections of the characters as she envisioned them. I was also rather surprised at the amount of turmoil she inserted into many of her writings and as she explained more about life in the south 50 years ago it all made sense. One passage was rather violent…describing a scene where a grandfather killed his own son because he knew life for his grandaughter would be much better off free from her father’s control. He shoots his own son, flees, and ends up getting killed by the police that chase him down…all for the love of his daughter. I get the feeling these aren’t mere “stories” for Alice, but deep deep experiences that she lived out or saw in her life. It obviously shaped her as a person…

Alice is giving up 50 years of her work and choosing a new life now. I must respect what she is doing…giving up what she has known for almost her entire life to take on a new calling. A self-proclaimed activist, she speaks of getting arrested at a rally with a smile and a gleam in her eye. She says she wants more, and that she wants to travel the planet we live on to feed the children of the world. She wants to travel to the poorer nations, see how they raise their livestock and to find ways to improve upon this so that children may eat. She had no reservations speaking of her displeasure of the Iraq War, touting her disgust that we’re “spending all that money to blow up a country and all it’s women and children when we should be using that money on our own schools and hospitals”. To be honest, it was rather surprising and interesting to see someone so soft-spoken, so in love with life and love to be putting this all out there. Not the “Down with Bush!” chanting, but rather a commentary that she would much rather save the children of the world.

All in all, I enjoyed seeing her speak. I expected an author reading excerpts from her books and instead got a woman…a very ordinary, everyday woman that you could see any day at the grocery store…that has written literary pieces enjoyed around the world that has a soft tone with a witty sense of humor and a love of life sharing thoughts and views on life today and life as it was. It was inspiring to hear her talk about making the move from one life, a writer, to another life as a woman who wants to improve the world. To see someone just give up everything that she knows in life and start anew. It inspires me to move on to whatever my calling may be.