Alice Walker, the activist and award-winning author of The Color Purple chats about criticism, gardening and her new book.
In her decades as a writer, plenty of controversy has surrounded the award-winning author of The Color Purple, Alice Walker. But the 69-year-old activist doesn’t let it phase her, instead she snubs press and criticism to focus on the task at hand. Here, she discusses her latest collection of meditations The Cushion in the Road.
A lot of what has been written about you recently seems to fall into two categories – either fiercely critical or passionately defensive. Have these reactions always been so divided?
I don’t generally read reviews. I write.
But do you intentionally tune out the commentary?
Yeah, because if you look at my list of books – I’ve written 30 or so – it takes an awful lot of time to write that many and do the other things that I do. I travel a lot – so I don’t focus on criticism. I know with The Color Purple, there was a lot of criticism. This was almost 30 years ago. During that time I turned to other things.
Do you discover things about your own personal, political and spiritual ideas via writing, or do you tend to sit down to write having already established them?
No, my writing is very organic. It’s what I am. My mother says I was writing before I was crawling. I wrote in the dirt with a twig.
Have you always remained open to writing about everything?
The Cushion in the Road contains a range of topics: the film Frozen River, the presidency of Barack Obama, health care, audiobooks, your local dog park and other things. It’s only because I am a human being and as a human you experience life in its fullness, not in a corner. So you can then write about anything.
In The Cushion in the Road, you say that when the world overwhelms you, you have to tend the chickens. It’s not a figure of speech; you really have chickens.
I was in India a few years ago and I met the grandchildren of Gandhi and they gave me one of his books. He says at some point that we should all do physical labour – that whenever you are feeling stuck and oppressed and sad and dislocated, it’s very useful to do something physical. If you don’t have access to a garden or a field, just really clean your apartment and get a sense of what you can do. This kind of work encourages us to do something outside our private space.
Is gardening your preferred task?
I’ve always done physical work. It comes from my background – generations of farmers who knew how to grow food and flowers and raise chickens. I’m really so grateful, because I can see how if you don’t have the ability or encouragement to use yourself in a physical way, you could become just another talking head.