Walker tells the truth. Her words resonate with many of
us and help us along the path. Here she is."
goes the ideal introduction author/activist Rebecca Walker
says she would prefer at her many speaking engagements instead
of the accomplishment-laden prologue she usually receives.
not really into all that stuff," she says, referring
to the awards and accolades most often mentioned in relation
to her: her place as one of Time Magazine's 50 future leaders
of America, her winning of the Paz Y Justicia award from
the Vanguard Foundation, her founding of a national non-profit
organization just after she graduated from Yale University.
is more concerned with "reaching out to people at
a deep emotional level," she says, and giving "people
more space to be who they are. That's my goal."
goal was also part of the motivation for Walker's stunning
new memoir, Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting
Self (Riverhead Books, $23.95).
discussed the book with Windy City Times just three days
after its release and right before she launched a book tour
that brings her to Chicago on Jan. 16 (see below for details).
autobiography takes readers on a journey that begins with
her birth in Jackson, Miss., in 1969, to a Black mother
(author Alice Walker) and a white father (attorney Mel Levanthal)
who could have been jailed for their marriage. It ends with
the death of her paternal grandmother, a woman who strongly
disapproved of her parents' marriage but nonetheless embraced
the younger Walker as part of the family.
offers snapshot-style stories about her upbringing, her
parents' divorce and its aftermath. After initially living
in different parts of New York City, her parents eventually
move to different coasts&emdash;her father in New York,
her mother in San Francisco&emdash;and she alternates
between them every two years.
description of these transitions is fascinating; because
of the rifts along racial lines in her family's lives, she
is forced to shift from all-white surroundings to surroundings
populated almost entirely by people of color.
her high school years she writes, "By now I am well
trained in not breaking the code, not saying something too
white around black people, or too black around whites."
characters in her life have marked entrances and exits,
and it is obvious that each scene and each person have been
included in the narrative because of their impact on her
and who she is as a person.
describes the book as a literary memoir, a genre usually
devoid of visuals, explaining the lack of family or personal
pictures to accompany the text. "It's more about
the words," she says.
says there are several reasons she decided to write such
a personal text for her debut.
intention was to heal&emdash;heal myself and help others
who have had similar experiences heal," she says.
on tour for an anthology that she edited&emdash;To Be
Real&emdash;she saw "young, beautiful mixed
people" in her audiences and she sought to make
a connection with them.
a way in which we're invisible as mixed people,"
she says. "We don't have these common stories we
can relate to each other through."
her autobiography she hopes to help build a sense of community
with others like her.
she says, "I definitely wrote the book in many ways
for my parents. There was a lot they didn't know about me
that I couldn't tell them."
parents have had difficulty accepting the book, feeling
that she is too hard on them.
the text, by the time they divorce when she is in the third
grade, her parents no longer play a large part in the book,
which instead focuses on what Walker experiences in the
world she says they have cast her out in.
looking for a dramatic, Mommie Dearest-esque look at the
elder Walker's personal life will be sorely disappointed.
This book isn't about Alice Walker or her fame or that fame's
effect on her daughter. The younger Walker rarely mentions
her mother's celebrity status, giving a strong sense that
it had very little effect on her daily life.
describes the emotional process of writing the book as much
more difficult than the mechanics of writing, noting, "Honestly,
when I was writing it I had a lot of issues to work through
... . Once I really sunk into the writing process I found
that the words just flowed out of me in an organic, emotional
kind of way."
says she has been surprised by much of the initial reaction
to the book: men are having a harder time with it than women;
some Jewish people have felt it is anti-Semitic; and one
Black woman was angry about the way she describes her life
in white suburbia.
brings their own issues to it," she says, "it's
common comment about the book is the way in which Walker
deals with her sexuality&emdash;the gender of her lovers
switches seamlessly from male to female in the text with
have said, 'You don't have a coming-out moment,'" she
says. "I've been bisexual since I was very young. I
wrote my sexuality's development as I experienced it ...
.There was a fluidity there."
decided not to create some big moment that wasn't true to
has also decided not to take part in an anthology on bisexuality
that she had planned to edit, and instead has signed on
for an anthology entitled Putting Down the Guns: New Men
motivations for the new project are no less personal than
those for her autobiography, and have "everything
to do with me raising a son," she says. "I'm
full-time masculinity police person," making sure
that her son's emotional sensitivity remains intact.
estimated that the project would be out in perhaps the next
year or so.
now, she is focusing her energies on Black White and Jewish
and watching people's reactions develop.
just been hard&emdash;it's like a reliving of all the
other experiences. It just feels like a cruel repeat in
some ways," she says, adding, "These things
take time, and it'll all work itself out in the end."
Walker speaks at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 16 at Women and Children
First Books, 5233 N. Clark.
© 2001 Lambda Publications Inc. All rights reserved.
Lambda publishes Windy City Times, The Weekly Voice of the
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community, Nightlines,
Out Resource Guide, Clout! Business Report, Blacklines and
En La Vida. 1115 W. Belmont 2D, Chicago, IL 60657; PH (773)
871-7610; FAX (773) 871-7609. Web at outlineschicago.com