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Lions Roar : November 2013
ebrated writer—there’s a burst of barking from the front of the house. “There’s my little Yorkie!” says Walker. But instead a medium-sized dog named Ziggy who belongs to a friend pads into the room and then disappears, followed by a tan- and-white mixed breed named Miles who plunks down next to Walker between the sofa and the coffee table. In 1966, Walker received her diploma from Sarah Lawrence and packed her bags for Mississippi. She’d accepted a job with the NAACP in one of the toughest environments in the Jim Crow South. Her first assignment was to interview black sharecroppers evicted from their homes for attempting to reg- ister to vote. There, Walker met Melvyn Leventhal, a Jewish lawyer working for the civil rights movement, and they fell in love. Years of both fruition and heartbreak followed. Walker and her husband’s work in Mississippi—not to mention their union—was dangerous. They were menaced by racist taunts, threatening phone calls, and hostile letters. Despite the obstacles, the couple married and had a daughter, Rebecca. In 1970, Walker published her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, about the depredations of a share- cropping family in Georgia, followed by collections of poems and stories. But the racist atmosphere in Mississippi took a toll on Walker, and by 1974, she wanted out. She moved to New York City, became an editor at Ms. Magazine and a teacher at Wellesley. In 1976, she divorced Leventhal, whom she still loved. “Mississippi, with all its hatreds and hardships, had worn them out,” writes Walker’s biographer, Evelyn C. White. Walker’s star was rising as a writer, but not without some clouds. After the dissolution of her marriage, caught between motherhood and her dedication to the solitary craft of writ- ing, Walker struggled with depression. “I have my despairs,” she tells me. “Despair happens. But I have a faith in my own ability to speak on it, whatever the disaster is, whatever seems to call for consciousness.” Poetry had often rescued Walker from dark spells after calamity—the eye injury, an abortion during college. This time, in addition to pouring herself into her writing, Walker turned to meditation. She wasn’t immedi- ately encouraged when she first sat down on her cushion. But she stuck with it and eventually noticed she felt less agitated, more willing to open to her own suffering. Walker and her Yorkshire terrier, Charlie.