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A Writer's Activism

by Alice Walker

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45584-1
Publisher: Random House

Like Walker's past collections, this one makes a stab at some of the themes of her fiction--nonpatriarchal religion, the true relationship of humans to the earth, racism, the oppression of women, and the interconnectedness of all of the above. But like her earlier essays, these fail to address the issues with anything approaching the grace of her fiction. She covers both the large and small, the historic and the everyday, celebrating the Million Man March, Zora Neale Hurston, Winnie Mandela, dreadlocks, and her family. But too often, when she writes about people she knows--her siblings, or her partner, for instance--the affectionate portraits don't tell us anything new or surprising. In one essay, Walker lambastes her critics for making her feel bad, comparing a review she received from another black female writer in the Village Voice to an obscene, threatening note she received in the mail. She writes about an essay that went unwritten because she was discouraged by "unhelpful" reviews; yet she is so vague about the nature of the criticism that one can't help thinking that what really bothered her was being criticized at all. It's not the only point at which she uses the collection as an opportunity to vent her personal grudges--against a writer who allegedly plagiarized a letter she wrote to Essence magazine that was never printed, and against the New York Times and other publications that haven't treated her with the respect she believes she deserves. Worse, much of her prose here is rambling, unclear, and choppy. One of these pieces contains a lengthy excerpt from her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, which only serves to reinforce our disappointment in her nonfiction writing.