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Womanist Prose

by Alice Walker

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 1983
ISBN: 0156028646
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

For poet and novelist Walker (The Color Purple), racism is like the "creeping kudzu vine that swallows whole forests and abandoned houses; if you don't keep pulling up the roots it will grow back faster than you can destroy it." Her own answer is to downplay revolutionary rhetoric in favor of the "least glamourous stuff"--practical organizing and community service. For the black writer, this also means working "to create and to preserve what was created before him." And so in many of these subtle 1966-82 essays, Walker explores key figures--Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston. She admires Hurston's "sense of black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings," as well as her personal zest and style. Walker traces her own interest in writing to a disfiguring childhood accident which left her timid and withdrawn. "I began really to see people and things, really to notice relationships and to learn to be patient enough to care about how they turned out." Patience would be necessary in the Sixties, when her work was dismissed by black reviewers "because of my life style, a euphemism for my interracial marriage." And it would steady her during the writing of The Color Purple, for which she retreated to a country home in northern California--where reluctant characters crystallized. "And no wonder: it looked a lot like the town in Georgia most of them were from, only it was more beautiful and the local swimming was not segregated." In her writing Walker strives to maintain "an awareness of and openness to mystery, which, to me, is deeper than any politics, race, or geographical location." Thus, she finds inspiration too in Flannery O'Connor. "Essential O'Conner is not about race at all. . .If it can be said to be 'about' anything, then it is. . . about the impact of supernatural grace on human beings who don't have a chance of spiritual growth without it." But she is also drawn to the earlier generations of anonymous black women, who "handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see: or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read." Thoughtful, intelligent, resonant musings.