Open Book: Diaries of Author Alice Walker | Bohemian
I remember when almost every woman I knew in Northern California would lean on Alice Walker’s new age novel about women who love other women and wear something purple.
Some have even been inspired to come out as lesbians.
Walker has continued to write and publish since The purple color won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1982. Stephen Speilberg made it into a movie and gave Walker international star power.
When I was teaching American literature in Europe in the mid-1980s, students wanted to know everything about it. They would have greatly benefited from the reviews she held from 1965 to 2000 and which have just appeared under the title Gathering the Flowers Under Fire: The Diaries of Alice Walker, 1965-2000 (Simon & Schuster; $32.50). They have been edited, although nothing of importance seems to have been omitted.
Walker writes about her Jewish husband, civil rights lawyer, Mel, her black lovers, including historian Robert Allen and singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman, as well as her troubled relationship with her daughter, Rebecca Walker, an author in her own right. .
In Gathering, readers have the opportunity to see Alice up close and personal, even if they won’t know all about her, until the last minute. The book ends in 2000.
I never met Walker, but I heard her give an inspirational speech to the senior citizens of Mendocino High School, where she said, “Walk alone, be an outcast.” I also interviewed her by telephone shortly after US troops entered Afghanistan. “We were all called to wake up right now,” she told me, and helped fuel the current wake-up phenomenon.
These days, black female writers are all over the bestseller lists. Walker was one of the first to emerge from the literary ghetto and appeal to both whites and blacks. To do this, she worked extremely hard to promote herself. Unsurprisingly, she writes in Gathering, “I want a year without being Alice Walker.” In another journal entry around the same time, she asks, “Why do I keep trying to figure out what’s wrong with me?”
What seems to have made her relatively happy and even content with her lot in life is her time among the back-to-landers. As she explained in my interview with her: “It’s so peaceful and rural, and I love my neighbors who are ordinary people. Mendocino County is a wonderful place to cultivate a garden and an idyllic place to write. In Boonville, I wrote The purple color.”
She added, “The Mendocino County that I know and love is similar to the Georgia countryside where I grew up.”
Yet it is curious that a woman from a poor black family of sharecroppers ended up in northern California, far from any big city literary market. Predictably, Walker was never entirely happy in Mendo. In Gathering, she writes about her tiring travels around the world, the many expensive properties she buys in California and New York, and her “complex of houses”. I applaud his frankness and his willingness to reveal his faults, his contradictions and his frustrations to his friends and lovers. “Nomadic life must stop,” she writes. Read flowers to find out if it has slowed down. Become a voyeur or pretend to read a long gossip column in which the columnist nearly strips naked.