WALKER the daughter of Alice Walker, the author of
The Color Purple, and Mel Leventhal, a civil
rights lawyer was a nascent feminist when she laid
bare the details of her freewheeling, lonely adolescence
in her 2001 book, Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography
of a Shifting Self.
Baron Sekiya for The New York Times
MOTHERLY ADVICE Plan to have a baby as you would plan your
career, Rebecca Walker says.
memoir, like the 20-something Ms. Walker, was impassioned,
poetic and occasionally messy. But it hit a nerve with many
critics who considered it a poignant meditation on race
also chronicled the authors efforts to cope with being
hot-potatoed from city to city in the wake of her parents
divorce and what she perceived to be her mothers ambivalence
about her existence.
to her own devices by parents she thought were preoccupied
with their careers, Rebecca Walker experimented with drugs,
had sexual encounters with men and women, and had an abortion
by the time she was an adult, she was writing about intergenerational
feminism (her godmother is Gloria Steinem), and had helped
found the Third Wave Foundation, a philanthropic group for
women ages 15 to 30, becoming a symbol for young women who
may not have considered themselves feminists.
though she was, Ms. Walker also cultivated a private life,
and in her 20s was in a serious relationship with another
however, Ms. Walker, 37, has become what she called a new
Rebecca, one who has a male partner, a child and some revised
theories about the ties that bind, which she explores in
a new book, Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a
Lifetime of Ambivalence (Riverhead), to be released
on Thursday. A review appears in The Times Book Review today.
inspiration? Her son, Tenzin, 2, who is named after the
Dalai Lama. (Ms. Walkers father voted for Chaim and
Walker and her partner, a Buddhist teacher named Glen (whose
last name does not appear in the book), have been living
in Maui, where Tenzin plays amid the lush landscape and
is pushed about in a Maclaren stroller.
feel like I have arrived in myself to where I want to be
and who I want to be, Ms. Walker said in a telephone
Motherhood, she writes in Baby Love, is the
first club Ive unequivocally belonged to.
book explores the usual pregnancy topics like food intake,
genetic counseling and the doctor-versus-midwife debate,
and reveals that Ms. Walker is now estranged from her famous
it is also unusual in that it is a pregnancy book with a
message for women who are not yet pregnant, amplifying a
theme Ms. Walker sounds on the undergraduate lecture circuit.
keep telling these women in college, You need to plan
having a baby like you plan your career if its something
that you want, she said. Because we havent
been told that, this generation. And theyre shocked
when I say that. Im supposed to be like this feminist
telling them, Go achieve, go achieve. And Im
sitting there saying, For me, having a baby has been
the most transformational experience of my life.
so Ms. Walker has become the latest to lend her voice to
the long-running debate of work versus motherhood, a trade-off
that to younger women probably no longer seems as stark
as it did to Ms. Walker.
Baumgardner, 36, an author of Manifesta: Young Women,
Feminism, and the Future, who also lectures on the
college circuit, said that students today do see having
children as important. If they are shocked at hearing Ms.
Walker talk about the epiphanies of motherhood, it may be
because of her image as something of a radical feminist.
Walker is extremely significant for younger feminists,
Ms. Baumgardner said. Shes definitely a superstar
to them, and to me.
Walker said she is not suggesting that all women have children,
only that those who feel the urge should not ignore it because
they fear career derailment or because they had difficult
is the first generation of women to grow up thinking of
children as optional, Ms. Walker writes in the new
book. We learned that children were not to be pursued
at the expense of anything else. A graduate degree in economics,
for example, or a life of renunciation, devoted to a Hindu
she writes, smelled of betrayal and a lack of appreciation
for the progress made on behalf of womens liberation.
But Tenzin has since erased her doubts.
most incendiary notion in Baby Love may be that,
for Ms. Walker, being a stepparent or adoptive parent involves
a lesser kind of love than the love for a biological child.
an interview, Ms. Walker boiled the difference down to knowing
for certain that she would die for her biological child,
but feeling not sure I would do that for my nonbiological
mean, its an awful thing to say, said Ms. Walker,
who in a previous relationship helped rear a female partners
biological son, now 14. The good thing is he has a
biological mom who would die for him.
Walker acknowledged that her idea of blood being thicker
than water runs contrary to her own philosophy in Black,
White and Jewish, in which she writes that all
blood is basically the same.
a 2001 Curve magazine article she said, the bonds
you create are just as important and just as powerful as
the bonds that you are born into.
asked about this incongruity, she explained: To grapple
with how my parents raised me I had to come up with a philosophy
that could sustain me. Having my own child gave me the opportunity
to have a completely different experience. So hence a different
she is altering a belief or two is something that Ms. Baumgardner
said is part of Ms. Walkers contribution to the Third
Wave sensibility, not a betrayal of it.
reserves the right to evolve, and thats a good model
for us, Ms. Baumgardner said.
Walkers own evolution, from wounded daughter to earth
mother, was perhaps particularly significant because she
was raised in a more radical zone, Ms. Baumgardner
is a tradition of feminist writing about pregnancy and motherhood,
but not everyone had such a complex mother-daughter dynamic
Walker gave to the world this incredible thing,
Ms. Baumgardner said. But what you want from your
parents is parenting.
to reach Alice Walker through her literary agent and her
daughter this week were unsuccessful.
Walker and her mother have a complicated love, according
to Rebecca. In high school, Rebecca legally changed her
last name from Leventhal to Walker because, as she put it
in Black, White and Jewish, she wanted to link
herself to her mother tangibly and forever and
to associate herself with blackness because she does not
feel an affinity with whiteness, with what Jewishness
has become. (That last sentiment, which is echoed
in other parts of the memoir, led several publications to
criticize it for reinforcing stereotypes.)
Walker estrangement was decades in the making. Most recently,
Ms. Walker was saddened by what she called her mothers
lack of enthusiasm to the news that she was pregnant.
that time they exchanged e-mail messages, with Rebecca demanding
an apology for years of hurt, and her mother responding
that she had apologized plenty, Rebecca writes in the book.
A cousin later tells Ms. Walker that she has been cut out
of her mothers will.
what if Tenzin wants to meet his grandmother the
writer, the social activist, the matriarch who helped to
shape his own mother?
Ms. Walker said gently. Sure. I mean theres
only so much I can do. I can explain the situation and help
him understand. But Ive always been and I always will
be open to reconciliation with my mother, you know? I love