In Search of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker

I don’t know if I was looking for something in particular when I began reading this book of essays. I had previously been introduced to the creative work of Alice Walker through her book, The Color Purple but landed upon this text when attempting to curate an African feminist syllabus. Little did I know then that as the title of the book suggests, I too would find my literary mother’s garden in the intellectual work of Alice Walker. Going through each essay, I felt like I was communing with my mother,not as a girl or daughter though those two remain to be true but more so as one woman to another about what it means to live a conscientious life in 2019. Tayari Jones in the book An American Marriage perhaps best describes what happened between Zora and me, “Something shadowy and female happened between them, as mysterious and primal as witches brew.”

Rather than give a review which I quite frankly think is impossible given then enormity of her contributions and the fact that I am still ruminating on them, I instead choose to offer you some of the words she offers us as gifts to our souls. Whether you are a woman becoming, a man interested in feminism or a mother looking to understand your daughter, I give you these words as an offering and hope that they will lead each and everyone of us in search of our own gardens.

On Black Womanhood

  1. If she is black and coming out into the world she must be doubly armed, doubly prepared. Because for her there is not simply a new world to be gained, there is an old world that must be reclaimed.
  2. But it is a great time to be a woman. A wonderful time to be a black woman, for the world, I have found, is not simply rich because from day to day our lives are touched with new possibilities, but because the past is studded with sisters who, in their time, shone like gold. They give us hope, they have proved the splendor of our past, which should free us to lay just claim to the fullness of the future.
  3. Guided by my heritage of a love of beauty and a respect for strength—in search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.
  4. Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly identifies one’s status in society, “the mule of the world,” because we have been handed the burdens that everyone else—everyone else—refused to carry. We have also been called “Matriarchs,” “Superwomen,” and “Mean and Evil Bitches.” Not to mention “Castraters” and “Sapphire’s Mama.” When we have pleaded for understanding, our character has been distorted; when we have asked for simple caring, we have been handed empty inspirational appellations, then stuck in the farthest corner. When we have asked for love, we have been given children. In short, even our plainer gifts, our labors of fidelity and love, have been knocked down our throats. To be an artist and a black woman, even today, lowers our status in many respects, rather than raises it: and yet, artists we will be.

On Representation

  1. When Toni Morrison said she writes the kind of books she wants to read, she was acknowledging the fact that in a society in which “accepted literature” is so often sexist and racist and otherwise irrelevant or offensive to so many lives, she must do the work of two. She must be her own model as well as the artist attending, creating, learning from, realizing the model, which is to say, herself.

On Love

  1. Her present though outgoing lover is a white woman. She met me while I was in an interracial marriage. We sigh. Two thoughts come to mind. A swaggering one first: Black women are notorious for loving anybody they want to love and some of those they don’t. And, less swaggering: Black women love those who love them.
  2. During the sixties my own work was often dismissed by black reviewers “because of my life style,” a euphemism for my interracial marriage. At black literature conferences it would be examined fleetingly, if at all, in light of this “traitorous” union, by critics who were themselves frequently interracially married and who, moreover, hung on every word from Richard Wright, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, John A. Williams, and LeRoi Jones (to name a few), all of whom were at some time in their lives interracially connected, either legally or in more than casual ways. Clearly it was not interracialism itself that bothered the critics, but that I, a black woman, had dared to exercise the same prerogative as they. While it is fine for black men to embrace other black men, black women, white women and white men in intimate relationships, the black woman, to be accepted as a black woman, must prefer being alone to the risk of enjoying “the wrong choice.”
  3. A look at the photographs of the women chosen by our male leaders is, in many ways, chilling if you are a black-skinned woman. (And this “chilling” experience is one that the dark-skinned black woman can hardly escape having in these times of black pictorial history. 2) Because it is apparent that though they may have consciously affirmed blackness in the abstract and for others, for themselves light remained right. Only Malcolm X, among our recent male leaders, chose to affirm; by publicly loving and marrying her, a black black woman. And it is this, no less than his “public” politics, that accounts for the respect black people, and especially women, had for him, and this that makes him radical and revolutionary, in a way few of our other black male leaders are.

On Activism and Revolution

  1. What Cuba teaches is that revolution is not a flash in the pan of injustice. It is, as Fidel says, “a process.” It takes years and years and generations to build a just society. The overthrow of a repressive government is only the beginning of that struggle.
  2. That is revolution. Not instant eradication of habits learned over a lifetime, but the abolition of everything that would foster those habits, and the creation instead of new structures that prevent them from returning.
  3. “Progress” affects few. Only revolution can affect many.

On Community

  1. We are a people. A people do not throw their geniuses away. And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake of our children, and, if necessary, bone by bone.

On Motherhood

  1. Someone asked me once whether I thought women artists should have children, and, since we were beyond discussing why this question is never asked artists who are men, I gave my answer promptly. “Yes,” I said, somewhat to my surprise. And, as if to amend my rashness, I added: “They should have children—assuming this is of interest to them—but only one.” “Why only one?” this Someone wanted to know. “Because with one you can move,” I said. “With more than one you’re a sitting duck.”

 

As always,

Love and Light!

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Atieno Otieno

An intersectional learner, unapologetic feminist, radical afro-centrist and holistic wellness enthusiast passionate about decentralizing knowledge and leaving an impactful footprint in this digital world.

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