CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (21): Alice Walker, on the way to being daffodils

Writer, Poet and Activist, Alice Walker (b. 1944)

Writer, Poet and Activist, Alice Walker (b. 1944)

Speaking of death
and decay
It hardly matters
Which
Since both are on the
way, maybe –
to being daffodils.

excerpt from Exercises on Themes from Life in Once: Poems (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968)

This celebration is a rain-drop next to the ocean of ongoing world-wide applause for Alice Walker (Alice Walker’s Garden). Her roots are in Putnam Country, Georgia where her family subsisted financially on earnings from sharecropping, dairy-farming and her mother’s part-time employment as a maid.  Ms. Walker seems to come by her spunk and savvy honestly. When a white plantation owner told her mother that black people had “no need for education,” she replied …

“‘You might have some black children somewhere, but they don’t live in this house. Don’t you ever come around here again talking about how my children don’t need to learn how to read and write.’ Her mother enrolled Alice in first grade when the girl was four years old.”  Evelyn C White in Alice Walker: A Life (W.W. Norton, 2004)

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Alice Walker is perhaps most well-known to some for her fiction especially The Color Purple, The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy (Open Road Media, 2012 – Kindle edition).  The Color Purple won her the National Book Award and The Pulitzer Prize. It was adapted for theater, both screen and as a musical stage play. The latter won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical and the 2016 Drama League Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical. Alice Walker was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer for fiction. (Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American woman to win it for poetry.)

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Once:Poems was Alice Walker’s debut poetry collection, written during a 1965 trip to East Africa and her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College. The book established her as an A-list poet and Muriel Rukeyser (among many others) gave it a thumbs-up saying, “Brief slashing poems – Young, and in the sun.”

In Kampala
the young king
goes often to Church
the young girls here
are
so pious.

excerpt from African Images, Glimpses from a Tiger’s Back in Once:Poems

Her other collections include: Hard Times Require Furious Dancing: New Poems (2013); The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers (2013); Her Blue Body Everything We Know: earthling Poems 1965-1990 (2004); and Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth: New Poems (2004).

With Gloria Steinem on the Fall 2009 Cover of Ms. magazine

With Gloria Steinem on the Fall 2009 Cover of Ms. magazine

No celebration of Alice Walker’s work would be complete without acknowledging her ceaseless efforts on behalf of the poor and marginalized. She is an advocate for peace and understanding. She was initially inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. and worked in the civil rights movement and by Howard Zin. She dedicated Once:Poems to Mr. Zin. Wherever people are oppressed in this world, you will find Alice Walker fighting the compassionate fight.

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll have to link through to the site to view this video of Alice Walker in Palestine in August 2010.

Ms. Walker regularly posts new poetry at her site Alice Walker’s Garden along with opinion pieces and updates on her own work and that of others.  Her Amazon page is HERE.

portrait © Virginia Bolt under CC BY-SA 2.0; Ms. cover © Ms. Magazine under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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