I Met Alice Walker and Her Advice Changed My Life
What she said about passionate affairs, money and haters is too good not to share.
I know in 1983, Alice Walker made history as the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel The Color Purple. I know she published her first book of poems at 24 and debuted her latest, Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart, last fall.
What I didn’t know: Alice Walker is funny, warm and loves statement necklaces and oversized sunglasses.
I discovered this and more when I met the author, poet and activist at the Anguilla Lit Fest this spring. The festival is a celebration of international and local literary talent, held on the tiny Caribbean island famous for its 33 white-sand beaches. Walker was the headliner of the three-day “literary jollification,” delighting an intimate audience as she sat barefoot and cross-legged in the garden of Paradise Cove Resort for a conversation with her editor, Dawn Davis.
I’d never have imagined that I’d share billing on a poster (I moderated a panel at the event) or have the chance to meet, chat and snap a selfie with one of the grand dames of literature. As Walker talked about her life and creative process, I learned some valuable life lessons, too, about patience, timing — and why I should never turn down a second helping. Below is some of the wisdom she shared.
In tough times, dance!
“When you have five things [happen] in one week and any one of them could kill you just from the horror of it, what do you do? I say have a really big party and just dance until you drop! You know this thing where people go and they stand around in shoes that hurt and they try to act like they’re talking and understanding anything? That is such a waste of time! Just don’t even bother. If you’re gonna dance, dance! You can’t stand around and network. I don’t believe in that. I just believe in dancing.”
Own your home
“If you don’t do anything else, get a house for you and your children. I’m the daughter of sharecroppers and we had to move every year. We never owned a home. So when I grew up and started to write, I realized I had to control my own environment. I was always thinking about how to have a home for me and my child. As women especially, it’s a way we gain some equity, to have some kind of economic leverage if you own your own land. As soon as I got two nickels, I bought myself 40 acres and a rototiller! “
“With all the acclaim [for my work] there were [also] incredible attacks. It’s not easy being a writer and having to make a living, raise a child, educate her well, and then just have people bash you on the basis of hearsay. If you are yourself, you will be attacked by people who don’t even know you but who will feel perfectly free to, as we say down South, ‘call you out your name.’ It hurts, of course it does. But it doesn’t matter. Unpopularity can often be a sign that someone is truly alive. Just keep going.”
Let it flow
“When I was younger, I would sometimes write things before they were ready and there was nothing I could do with those things; they were green. [Now] I practice meditation. I believe that what I need to come into me will eventually be expressed. I don’t chase anything. If it’s not ready to come, it’s OK. I will never hurry anything. We come into bloom when it’s time.”
“Don’t let people tell you how to live your life. Find out what makes you happy; have great love affairs; travel to all the countries; eat all the food. And know that I have done that. I have had a great time. Our experience on this planet is a gift beyond belief.”