Monday, 22 July 2024

Alice Walker: Who are you waiting for?

Author Alice Walker, speaking recently at SolFest in Hopland and simultaneously in my living room, courtesy of KZYX and KZYZ radio of Mendocino County, stopped my puttering with these words:

“In Rwanda, women are 48 percent of the parliament, the highest percentage of any country in the world.” And then she went on with the horrifying explanation that this may well be because 800,000 Rwandan men were slaughtered in the genocidal war of 1994.

SolFest is such a broad-ranging event that Walker was a perfect speaker. A poet and author of several non fiction books and novels, the best-known her Pulitzer Prize winner “The Color Purple” she seems to have no limits on her interests, from farming to quilting, health, orchids, peace, saving old buildings, and creating new and better societies.

The talk was just an appetizer. I thought I had read most of her work, but had never heard of “We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: nner Light in a Time of Darkness,” her 2006 collection of essays, meditations and talks to groups ranging from graduating classes to midwives and black yoga teachers.

The book is a full meal, a feast. No, a full life, from birth to death. In addressing midwives in New Mexico she speaks of the primary life-saving importance of welcoming the newborn; in addressing college graduates, she advises having only one child and she repeatedly urges the protection of all children and the bombing of none.

Walker is not popular with the present-day United States government. She has been arrested in peace demonstrations, is outspokenly critical of the war on Iraq and greatly admires Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro for the widespread health care and universal literacy his much-maligned regime has achieved.

The book's title is a line from the late poet June Jordan's “Poem for South African Women.” Walker and Jordan were friends for 30 years. We are the ones is an inspiring and comforting thought; the Elders of the Hopi Nation of Oraibi, Ariz., liked it too, enough to use it as the end of a message which begins “We have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour/Now we must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.”

Walker, now 63, is the daughter of Georgia sharecroppers with African, Cherokee, Irish and Scottish ancestry who attended Spelman College in Atlanta on full scholarship and later transferred to Sarah Lawrence. She has traveled widely, and continues to do so, when not at one of her homes in Mendocino County, San Francisco or Mexico.

At both SolFest and in the book she has scattered little nuggets of humor coating chewy centers.

  • On the power of language: Why do modern women call each other “guys”?

  • On coloring her hair: “the struggle for hair liberation does not, I feel, stop at nappiness.”

  • On slave owners who ordered their slaves to wear pastels: “Obviously we looked great in red ... that was the problem.”

Two of her passions resonated strongly for me. First her own “intense house hunger,” which she has fed by owning several and building one. “I will never build another ... use what is still beautiful and sound, repair, what is broken; in a word, renovate housing that already exists.” It was no surprise to learn she collects quilts, those useful and beautiful creations made from useless scraps.

Then, “The pause,” that moment when we have finished a project and are ready to rush into another. “Wisdom, however, requests a pause. If we cannot give ourselves such a pause, the universe will likely give it to us,” perhaps as illness or some other unwelcome event which requires us “to stop, to sit down, to reflect.”

She serves generous helpings of gratitude to the multitude of women and men who have guided her through her life, poets of many nations, spiritual and political leaders of many persuasions, including singer Bob Marley, whom she never met but for whom she named her dog.

This can be a quick read, but it's sure to require long digestion.

We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting for: Light in a Time of Darkness

Format: Hardcover

Pub. Date: 11/1/2006

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co Inc


Pub. Date:11/30/2007

Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc

E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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