Poetry is a constant for Alice Walker. Her literary career, which spans over four decades, has been dominated by her novel The Color Purple,often at the expense of a robust body of work and literary activism that includes collections of essays and short stories, children’s books, volumes of poetry, works of fiction and nonfiction, and most recently a Tony-nominated play based on her signature novel.
Of course, one would be hard-pressed to downplay The Color Purple, which catapulted her into international celebrity. Walker became the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1983. The book also won the American Book award and was adapted for film by Steven Spielberg.
But before The Color Purple, Walker was a poet. Her first volume of poems, Once (1968), was followed by seven more volumes of poetry.
Later this month, she will join a long list of poets in the nation’s capital for the 2012 Split This Rock Poetry Festival, a progressive literary festival whose mission is to advance the profile of politically engaged poetry in the U.S.
Over the course of numerous emails and a telephone conversation, a pensive yet jovial Alice Walker shared with me her thoughts on the enduring relevance of poetry to societies in upheaval, becoming an elder, and why Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet remains at the top of her list of all-time favorite books.
Going back several books to The Way Forward is With a Broken Heart—you dedicate your book to the American race. What does it mean for a writer to gift her work to an entire nation?
That comes from the reality that we’re in the making. America is not nearly done. We’re only in the beginning. Who knows who we will be? Who knows… what color we will be? It is all something that, maybe, our descendants—if they survive that long—will see. We are a people in the making, so my book is dedicated to us in that sense.
To continue reading, visit The Atlantic.