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November 6, 2000

Pulitzer winner wows crowd at reading

By Stephanie Sonnenfeld

Acclaimed writer Alice Walker’s Monday, Oct. 30 visit, to Emory was similar to many of her novels: a celebration of women, mixed with inspiring prose and a noticeable amount of drama.

While the feminist spirit and words were expected, the drama came in the form of an impromptu fire drill at the Dobbs Center, where Walker spoke in Winship Ballroom. The 15-minute drill was a little chaotic but didn’t faze Walker or the crowd of about 200 who came to hear her speak.

And perhaps it was the fire drill that truly helped set the tone for Walker’s visit, which was co-sponsored by the Office of Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Life and Charis Circle, a local literary group affiliated with Charis Books in Little Five Points.

“Somebody has said that when human beings understand the power of love—for each other and the rest of the world—and really act on love, it will be a time when we discover fire for the second time,” said Walker, author of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple.

The sentiment was a fitting introduction to Walker’s reading from her latest work, The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart. The semi-autobiographical book comprises 13 stories and begins with Walker’s reflections on her marriage to a Jewish civil rights lawyer in the South during the early years of the civil rights movement.

Other stories in the book are fiction with a traceable link to Walker’s life, some of which was spent in Atlanta when she attended Spelman College from 1961-63.

Walker told the crowd The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart is the product of a 30-year writing cycle that started after her divorce in the 1970s. She has said the divorce challenged everything she’d ever thought about human relationships. This book, she told the crowd at the DUC, is about the good and bad in life and relationships.

“It’s a hard thing to learn about life—that it’s just not all good, and it’s not all about the good things. It’s equally about those times when you want to slit your wrists. [Life] is just the most crazy thing,” she said. “If you ever can reach the point where you can see that [life] is a balance and can be a balance—where your highs can be just as wonderful as your lows—you're learning. Relationships are excellent at that.”

Walker read a story from her book summing up this sentiment. “Charms” is about a couple “who have a lot of things to work on and want to.” Following the 20-minute reading she read the book's epilogue, describing a wife who wonders how her ex-husband feels about the death of John Kennedy Jr.

She ended her visit by sharing a philosophical piece about how women should be allowed to solve the world's problems. It was a thought she received just like everyone else: via forwarded e-mail.

The crowd thanked the writer with a standing ovation, a sign of a successful visit for the Eatonton, Ga., native who now lives in Berkeley, Calif. Walker then signed copies of her works, which include By the Light of My Father's Smile, Possessing the Secret of Joy, The Same River Twice, In Love and Trouble and The Temple of My Familiar.

Walker’s visit also celebrated the 26th birthday of Charis Books, the South’s oldest feminist bookstore. All proceeds from the reading went to Charis Circle the group that helps the store stage literary events and run local programs. The Office of LGBT Life provided the use of Winship Ballroom, where local singer Doria Roberts performed prior to Walker’s readings.

All proceeds from the event went directly to support Charis Circle’s programs, which include writing mentoring groups for local women and girls.


Back to Emory Report Nov. 6, 2000