many ways, Rebecca Walker defies conventional labels. The
biracial daughter of author Alice Walker and civil-rights
attorney Mel Leventhal, she was born in the South during
the late '60s. As the bisexual girlfriend of Meshell Ndegeocello,
for years she was one half of the most out couple in the
black lesbian community.
Walker explored her distinct identity in her acclaimed 2001
memoir, Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting
Self. Though her upbringing was far from typical, readers
related to her struggle and frank discussion of race, sexuality
book was embraced by many different cultures, Walker told
AfterEllen.com: "A lot of mixed-race people came to
me to say that it changed their life. They feel it articulated
an experience that had not been excavated in the generation."
Not everyone appreciated Walker's honesty, however, as she
revealed a difficult and lonely childhood shuffled between
divorced parents. Though she ended up at Yale, she wrestled
with her mixed cultural background, experimented with drugs
and alcohol, and had an abortion at 14.
criticism came from all sides. "Everything you would
expect from being a biracial, bisexual person," Walker
explained. "Jewish people got upset because they felt
I only represented them as wealthy. Sometimes gay people
got mad because they wanted me to have a whole coming-out
moment, and even though I talk about my woman partner at
the time [Ndegeocello] and her son, they didn't feel I was
mother, too, objected to the way their family was represented,
which placed a strain on their relationship. "I felt
that I was going to write this book, and I was going to
give it to my parents and they were going to start talking
to each other and the whole family would be healed,"
she admitted. "Obviously, that didn't happen."
her new memoir, Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After
a Lifetime of Ambivalence, Walker shifts the lens from
childhood to parenthood with the birth of her son, Tenzin.
The book recounts Walker's experience getting pregnant with
her partner, a man named Glen, as her own relationship with
her mother continued to deteriorate.
wrote Baby Love at this point in her life because
she felt that there were important issues that people were
not discussing. "It's a book that I wish I had been
able to read when I was in my mid-20s," she said.
of the many issues Walker aimed to address is the daily
and insidious ambivalence she sees in many women's lives.
"I meet many women who are ambivalent," she said.
"I wanted to write a book about how ambivalence can
be so immobilizing that the myriad of ideas we're batting
around in our mind can keep us from experiences that we
long to have."
the book is primarily focused on Walker's pregnancy and
the birth of her son, she also wanted to call attention
to the dynamic between mothers and daughters because of
her own difficult bond.
believes part of the problem is a "sisterhood model
of parenting," where parents serve more as friends
or equals. "Daughters need mothers; they don't need
sisters," she said. "Sisterhood is full of love
and support, but also jealousy and competition and undermining.
The mother-daughter archetype isn't about that; it's about
unconditional love and support."
As Walker has traveled the country on her book tour, she
has heard countless stories from women who are trying to
get pregnant, are pregnant or are longing to get pregnant.
"I love it," she said, "because I'm just
learning so much about families all different kinds
Similar to Black, White and Jewish,
the response to Baby Love has been varied. Though
Walker is bisexual, the fact that she is with a man now
is contentious. Oddly enough, she said, lesbians who are
pregnant or trying to start families have been among her
greatest supporters in the LGBT community.
else seems to only feel comfortable with me being bisexual
when I'm with a woman," she said. "Now that I'm
with a man, there's [a] twinge that used to not be there
as if I no longer speak the language or I don't know
In fact, much of the criticism about Baby Love stems from
Walker's discussion of her relationship with Ndegeocello's
teenage son, Solomon, whom she co-parents. In one of the
more controversial segments, she writes: "I don't care
how close you are to your adopted son or beloved stepdaughter,
the love you have for your nonbiological child isn't the
same as the love you have for your own flesh and blood."
response has been interesting, said Walker, who has yet
to discuss the book with Solomon. "I'm not saying that
one is greater, but that they are different," she explained.
"And why wouldn't they be different? They have different
processes. It's a completely different experience."
that is not necessarily a bad thing, said Walker, who has
found that many people are uncomfortable celebrating different
kinds of love and families. "In our culture we have
one word for love, whereas in many languages there are 15
words for love. People use different words to describe different
kinds of relationships."
we continue to reconfigure families, she said, we need
to "speak intelligently and with complexity about these
different relationships" rather than resort to censorship.
"It's made me reflect on the whole idea of qualifying
love and people wanting their love for their child to be
the same as biological love as if that was the standard."
point is especially significant in light of her troubled
relationship with her mother. By the end of Baby Love,
she has received an email from her stating "that she
has been my mother for 30 years and is no longer interested
in the job" and later discovers that she has been removed
from the will.
think they are being so progressive, but they are holding
the biological thing as the standard that everything should
be the same as," Walker said. "Why would it be
reassuring to say that it's the same when we know that biology
is so rife with problems and confusion too?"
who has received both "vicious" emails from adoptive
parents and "vulnerable" emails from adoptees,
believes it's a worthwhile dialogue. "We really need
to be talking about this in order for people to feel celebrated
in the unique ways they exist. They don't have to feel inferior
because they're not one thing."
is currently working on a collection called Walk
This Way: Introducing the New American Family about
contemporary family configurations such as transracial adoptions,
couples who live on different continents, and polyamorous
"With an anthology, I get to get other people to explore
an idea that I'm really interested in," said Walker,
who has edited several other anthologies, including the
most recent What Makes a Man: 22 Writers Imagine the Future.
"I like to find new voices and to support people who
might have a hard time getting published in other places
or whose writing voice is a little too raw for mainstream
is also writing a third memoir about her time in Africa,
which, she said, is a "more internal process of mapping
out my inner terrain."
does not know if her mother has read Baby Love. Though
she believes she has finally stopped writing for her, she
admits that her mother's influence endures. "In many
ways, one of the most incredible gifts that my mom gave
me was the opportunity to live with and experience a master
artist who transformed her life into art every day,"
said Walker. "That shaped me the way I think,
the way I view the process of making meaning in life."