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March 2013

Perspectives From Alice Walker - Black Women and Writing

In addition to being the birthplace of womanism, speaking to a long legacy of Black women’s anti-oppression feminist praxis, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens by Alice Walker also includes some very wise perspectives on being a writer/writing. (I think some of James Baldwin’s essays in Cross of the Redemption does the same from a Black man’s perspective.)

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

For me, black women are the most fascinating creations in the world.
The artist then is the voice of the people, but she is also The People.
Zora Neale Hurston is probably one of the most misunderstood, least appreciated writers of this century. Which is a pity. She is great. A writer of courage, and incredible humor, with poetry in every line.
The quality I feel most characteristic of Zora’s work: racial health; a sense of black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings, a sense that is lacking in so much black writing and black literature.
So much of the satisfying work of life begins as an experiment; having learned this, no experiment is ever quite a failure.
Critics seem unusually ill-equipped to discuss and analyze the works of black women intelligently. Generally, they do not even make the attempt; they prefer, rather, to talk about the lives of black women writers, not about what they write.
It seems to me that black writing has suffered because even black critics have assumed that a book that deals with the relationships between members of a black family—or between a man and a woman—is less important than one that has white people as primary antagonists. The consequences of this is that many of our books by ‘major’ writers (always male) tell us little about the culture, history, or future, imagination, fantasies, and so on, of black people, and a lot about isolated (often improbable) or limited encounters with a nonspecific white world.
The writer—like the musician or painter—must be free to explore, otherwise she or he will never discover what is needed (by everyone) to be known. This means, very often, finding oneself considered “unacceptable” by masses of people who think that the writer’s obligation is not to explore or to challenge, but to second the masses’ motions, whatever they are. Yet the gift of loneliness is sometimes a radical vision of society or one’s people that has not previously been taken into account.
The duty of the writer is not to be tricked, seduced or goaded into verifying by imitation or even rebuttal, other people’s fantasies. In an oppressive society it may well be that all fantasies held by the oppressor are destructive to the oppressed. To become involved in them in any way at all is, at the very least, to lose time defining yourself. To isolate the fantasy we must cleave to reality, to what we know, we feel, we think of life. Trusting our own experience and our own lives.
Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence—as it saves most writers who live in ‘interesting’ oppressive times and are not afflicted by personal immunity.
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