Emory Report

September 28, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 6

Author Alice Walker to give reading at Glenn Oct. 5

Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple, will give what she said is one of her last readings Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. in Glenn Auditorium, where will read from her new novel, By the Light of My Father's Smile, and sign books. "I'm not going to do any more lectures or readings beyond the ones I've already agreed to do," said Walker in the current Ms. magazine.

Walker, who resides in northern California, also is the author of the best-selling novels Possessing the Secret of Joy and The Temple of My Familiar, as well as more than 20 poetry collections, essay collections and children's books. Always controversial for her portrayals of racial, gender and sexual issues, Walker said By the Light of My Father's Smile "presents a celebration of sexuality, its absolute usefulness in the accessing of one's mature spirituality and the father's role in assuring joy or sorrow in this arena for his female children."

The book is the story of an African-American family--two daughters and their parents--who settle in the remote Mexican Sierras for several years. The father, who narrates much of the novel posthumously, finds his 15-year-old daughter Magdalena having sex with a local boy, Manuelito. The father beats Magdalene in a scene witnessed by her sister, Susannah. And while both daughters are wounded by the beating, it is Magdalena who remains scarred throughout her life.

Critics have frequently accused Walker of glorifying sex and have consequently tried to ban her books. But, as she has explained, "our children are continuing to get pregnant when they're very young. They're having unsafe sex-we know this because they're having babies. The HIV rate among young black people is climbing rapidly. I feel that the heart of our dilemma as a culture and as a people is sex." A more open dialogue about sex and sexuality, Walker has said, will empower young people--particularly young women--to make better choices about sex.

"Womanist," rather than feminist, is the term coined by Walker to describe her gender philosophies. She sees herself as someone who appreciates women's culture, emotions and character, which is often reflected in her work. Still, her writing reflects the universality of the human experience. As one Walker scholar noted, she has a "reputation as a provocative writer who writes about blacks in particular but all humanity in general."

Walker has earned a reputation as a strong, outspoken woman through a lifetime of activism. The daughter of tenant farmers in Eatonton, Ga., she attended Spelman College on a full academic scholarship, where she became involved in the civil rights movement. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, Walker moved to Mississippi to teach and continue her social activism. It was there that she met and married a white civil rights lawyer, and the two became the first legally married interracial couple living in Jackson, Miss., where they endured threats and harassment for years. They divorced amicably in 1976 and have a daughter, Rebecca, also an author and feminist.

In keeping with Walker's history of social activism, she is honorary co-chair of Radio Kudirat International, co-founded in 1995 by Woodruff Professor of the Arts Wole Soyinka and co-chaired by Rudolph Byrd, professor and director of African American studies, and Johnnetta Cole, Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and president emerita of Spelman. All proceeds from Walker's appearance will benefit the Nigerian pro-democracy radio frequency.

Tickets to the reading are $15 for faculty, staff and non-Emory students, $10 for Emory students and $20 general admission. For more information on the reading or Radio Kudirat International, call 404- 727-6847.

-Deb Hammacher

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