“Love is the foundation of change and transformation,” Alice Walker tells us. Yes, the Alice Walker, as in the first African American woman to win both the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and the National Book Award in 1983 for “The Color Purple” came to my college (Point Loma Nazarene University) to share her perspective as an author.
“There’s nothing more wonderful than setting other people free,” she explains from the stage at Brown Chapel, Thursday, February 28, as the final speaker for the 25th annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea.
I am overtaken by a sense of awe as she smiles kindly to the standing ovation she receives. Before me sits a woman whose words I have smiled at, cried over, and held onto, and she proves to be no less brilliant in person.
Carefully, she unpacks her writings, her hope, and her hurt for all of us, explaining that “I think of my works as medicine.” However, she also does not spare us of the harsh realities which tell her story and have emboldened her works over a lifetime.
To Walker, poetry is “my way of celebrating with the world that I have not committed suicide the evening before.”
To her, writing is part of what traumas are for. She uses it as “an expression of healing” and refuses to bend her will despite the things that have been thrown at her unexpectedly. In any biography you reference for her life, they will tell you the suffering she dealt with early on drove her inward, warping her sense of confidence. Walker is not shy about this fact but she is also not defined by this idea.
Critics will continue to interpret Alice Walker by the themes her work embodies, but to me, she is more than the compilation of every issue she has ever tried to tackle. Walker has spent her time in the limelight telling the stories she feels most convicted to share, no matter how much they challenge us.
One thing which has always struck me about her is the unwavering honesty she represents. Walker taught me how to speak my mind and live my truth. Amidst the ease with which so many of us give into the expectations of others and lose the ability to move forward, she challenged us to keep growing. During her time at PLNU, she reminded me, as well as the other aspiring writers in the audience, to “find the meaning” when we write.
The stories she crafts act as a translation in some ways for the wounds she carries and one cannot help but feel this in how she writes. She is a complex woman but perhaps the thing which awed me most was her ability to admit a lack of knowledge: “Who knows why things are this way,” she says of the hardships she has endured. She searches for answers but does not misguide us when she doesn’t have an explanation.
It is easy to hide behind others, to coat the truth in metaphors or make claims to things we could not possibly know. We all want to have something to say but Walker reminds me that our meaning comes from knowing why we write.
In her newest collection of poetry “Taking The Arrow Out of The Heart” we are given insight into her well-lived life and all of the obstacles she has endured to get to where she is now. From this newest book, she teaches that no matter the brokenness we carry or all which we struggle to put into words, we must “get the arrow out and keep moving.”
“Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart” was published in October 2018 and has been printed in both English and Spanish. It won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work.
Photos taken by Garrett Richardson, Scott Bennett, and Natalie Martyn respectively.