REDISCOVERING ALICE:  I have been a devoted Alice Walker  fan for more than 20 years. I have a note from her tucked inside my first edition of The Color Purple after she read some of my poetry and regretted that her small press was going out of business and she couldn't publish them. Hell, the fact that ALICE WALKER even read my poetry is a thrill beyond words. When you get to interact with a literary idol in even the smallest way, it buoys you (well, me at least) and makes me strive to do better.

I clearly remember marching into my local library in the early 1980s after The Color Purple was published and bringing it to the check out desk. My mother was forever running interference for me at the library, as the librarian always questioned the wisdom of letting someone so young check out "dirty" books. I always wanted to check out books on my own card, not have mom do it for me...that defeated the purpose. Mom stood behind me and said I read way beyond my age level and stared down the librarian until she stamped the book in my name. My Mom can be a crazy woman sometimes, but she understood and appreciated literature and instilled that love in me. I had read Judy Blume, Erica Jong, John Irving, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams while I was still in junior high. Alice Walker would open my eyes to the world of black writers. If you were to look at my book collection (which is huge) you would see all of Alice's book, every book by Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Rita Dove, Langston Hughes, Terry McMillan and the great Zora Neale Hurston.

The Color Purple is one of the reasons I became a writer. Those spare, simple letters from Celie  to God still make me weep and want to sing with joy. When the film came out in 1986, my Mom, Dad and I were the only white people in the theater. I think my parents were nervous, but I was overjoyed. When Shug Avery launched into Maybe God Is Trying To Tell You Something, the audience in the theater was on its feet, dancing in the aisles, and  my little white ass was up and dancing with them. I don't do religion (the organized kind), but there was definitely a higher power working in that theater and on me...leading me to this place in time.

Yesterday, Susan Booth (artistic director for the Alliance Theatre) sent over a guest column that is going to run in the next issue of the magazine I edit, Atlanta Intown. The Alliance is world premiering the musical of The Color Purple. Susan began her column with a quote from one of my favorite Walker poems, How Poems Are Made: A Discredited View from her brilliant collection Horses Make A Landscape Look More Beautiful.
I know how poems are made.
There is a place the loss must go.
There is a place the gain must go.
The leftover love.
Susan didn't fill her column wining about the long hours of bringing the show to stage and the myriad of other hells a director goes through, she talked about how Alice Walker was a touchstone throughout her life. Thanks for reminding me, Susan. That snippet of poetry has been one of my touchstones, the reason I can put my life on paper for the masses. The reason I can write words on this Blog that the whole world can read.

Tonight, I am going to finish the final read-through of my novel, Conquering Venus. I am going to add another poem that I discovered by accident. The main character, Martin, is a poet in Paris and the novel is filled with his work. Someone asked me the other day how I could snap out of poetry mode into novel mode so quickly after all the work and promotion for Better To Travel. For me, the novel is the next logical step. BTT, in my mind, is the prequel to Conquering Venus - how the poems came into being. The leftover love.


BLUE said…
You work this, HBW! You truly raised the bar with this blog entry. I, too, am an Alice fan ... though I'm not really keen on all of her poetry (We'll talk about that later), I think she has one of the most poignant fiction writers and essayists of our time. "In Search Of Our Mothers' Gardens" is indeed a gem. And the short story collections, "In Love and In Trouble" and "You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down" are remarkable. I lol at the image of you and your mother, the checkout mafia at your library, ensuring that you would be fed in this way. Knowledge gained through books can be a feared thing. Remind me to tell you the story about how I got on an elevator when I was in high school with very scared-looking white doctors at a hospital while I was reading a copy of Langston Hughes' "The Ways of White Folks" ... I was laughing out loud at both the text and their fear.

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