Rudolph P. Byrd interviews Alice Walker in Guernica:
After a little over a year in office, fierce and often unfounded attacks, and the painstaking process that eventually led to a victory for health care reform, perhaps now is a good time for President Obama to revisit the words of the open letter Alice Walker published the day after he was elected. Along with respectfully telling the soon-to-be president that he will never know the profoundness of his being elected president for “black people of the Southern United States,” Walker offers him some advice: make sure to make time for rest and play with family because, “From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is only what so many people in the world really want,” and to “remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing” and not to take on other people’s enemies, offering the Dalai Lama’s model for coexisting. It is, perhaps, a look into the evolution of an American icon known nearly as well for her fierce opposition to all forms of oppression as for her award-winning writing.
Walker, the lauded poet, essayist, and Pulitzer Prize winner for The Color Purple, has led a life that rivals the creative intensity of any of her literary creations. From her birth in 1944 in Putnam County, Georgia, the youngest of eight siblings and the child of parents who made their living as sharecroppers, to her involvement with the civil rights, Black Arts, and feminist movements in the decades that followed, Walker has established herself as one of the most important and inspirational public intellectuals in America. She not only gave voice to the complex experience of African American women in what scholars term the renaissance in African American women’s writing of the nineteen seventies, but also made that voice heard in public conversations over issues as diverse as gender equality, racial and economic justice, and war and peace.