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Lions Roar : November 2013
Now, Walker only writes when something is “writing itself ” inside her. Writing can be an affliction, she knows. When she’s involved in the world of her characters, “trying to see six or eight people through various life passages, there’s not enough of me to also be present to the people I live with.” Walker begins to reflect on what life has brought her when her Yorkshire terrier races into the room. He hurls himself onto Walker’s lap, whirls in circles, wiggles on his back, then hurdles the cushions to stand alert on the back edge of the sofa—close-cropped grooming making his ears appear huge. “Hi Charlie! Mama missed you!” Walker coos, then resumes her train of thought: “I’ve had many loves, family. That’s life— it always gives you just what you don’t expect.” Like a public rift with your only child. Rebecca Walker— also a writer—has openly aired complaints about the mother- ing she received, and mother and daughter have not spoken in several years. In our interview, just a few days after Moth- er’s Day, Walker praises her own mother’s dedication and resourcefulness but doesn’t volunteer details of her troubled relationship with Rebecca. Walker is first a poet, and these res- onant lines from “Despair Is the Ground Bounced Back From” in her new collection point to the hurt: When the best mothering you can muster is kicked to the curb with a sneer... there is something to be gained to be learned to be absorbed even in this pit. In an email exchange later, Walker acknowledges the pain of the estrangement, but she doesn’t dwell there. “I was turned back to a deeper understanding of what motherhood has meant in traditional African American communities: taking care of, mothering, all the children within reach. This does not make up for losing my only daughter to forces I don’t yet understand, but it does redirect me to something useful, I believe, to the lives of the inheritors of our planet: its children.” Twenty-five years after she and Leventhal split, Walker pub- lished a book of stories written from the ruins of her marriage, The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart. As it was with her divorce and the blind eye, so it may be with her daughter: it can take time to uncover what the something is to be learned from such a sharp, unexpected, and intimate pain and to wish to speak of it. Watching What Grows A lifelong activist, Walker still speaks out regularly on issues that matter to her—Palestine, Cuba, drone warfare, war in general. When I ask if she is encouraged by the Obama presi- dency, she says she’s not encouraged by “the political system” but is inspired that the American people put Barack Obama and his family in the White House. “I love seeing them there, especially given the history of the White House as a slave-built mansion. That taught us what we can do.” Walker’s political positions are often uncompromising, but she approaches her activist work like a seasoned meditator, neither wholly optimistic nor solely pessimistic. She is com- mitted to making an effort without being attached to results and knows that transformation must begin close to home. Though we may want to start “over there with those poor peo- ple,” says Walker, we always have to start with “our poor selves.” To nurture her meditation practice over the years, Walker has mostly chosen a sangha of her own creation. For ten years, Vipassana teacher and author Jack Kornfield came to Walk- er’s home in Berkeley to teach her and a dozen other women, because, she says, “It’s not comfortable in some of the very white Buddhist settings. People bring their whiteness in a really unconscious, oppressive way.” Kornfield would give talks, or the women would. In a sangha that wasn’t tied to a traditional Buddhist structure, the mutuality of learning was understood and readily embraced. At Emory University, which is home to the Alice Walker Literary Society and her archives, Walker has sat beside the Dalai Lama onstage, discussing spirituality and creativity. She’s traveled to India, Japan, Burma, Congo, Cuba, Palestine, South Africa, and Rwanda and written about the spirit in these Walker and her assistant, Muki Villanueva, at the dining table. Walker’s home—full of artwork and books—has a lived-in, cared-for feel. SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2013 34