Alice Walker on Writing, Dancing, and Bursting Into Song
"A modest two-step, not to attract attention, but still."
Alice Walker’s Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart is now available.
What do you always want to talk about in interviews but never get to?
How much the study of the literature of other countries can inform our sense of history; making the present easier to understand.
What time of day do you write?
I used to write almost entirely in the morning; I had a small child to care for, to help dress, to prepare for school. After she left, I could, if no travel that day was involved, meditate for 40 or so minutes; then, still in pajamas, go to work.
How do you tackle writer’s block?
To my knowledge I’ve never experienced writer’s block. I have published over two dozen books, seven of them novels, and have kept a journal going since 1962. (Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker, coming next year.) My mother claims I was scribbling in the dirt with a twig when I was crawling. To me, writing was never a sentence but a delight, though weeping while doing it was not unknown. Too, there were always so many other enchanting things to do! Gardening, quilting, exploring the world, dancing on the Great Wall [of China]. . . A modest two-step, not to attract attention, but still.
Which book do you return to again and again?
The I Ching. A friend gave me a copy in the early 80s. She has since died, and I don’t think I ever told her it was one of the greatest, most useful gifts, of my life. There have been years when I have leaned on it as on a person. And, in fact, once I was talking to a friend about it and said “Brother Ching.” She, a feminist, countered immediately with “Mother Ching.” I think of it as more masculine because of the information on battlefield strategy, and rigid notions of courtly behavior. Confucian ideas of male superiority aside, it remains a book that rewards study and consultation.
Which non-literary piece of culture—film, tv show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?
When I am in a country where people still sing spontaneously, while working or even while strolling along the street, or beach, I feel comforted, and at home. I regret deeply that more people in more countries have given up the gift to others that is voluntary song. It is true many great voices have been “captured” on machines, I am not ungrateful. But if humans lose completely our human tendency to burst into song when the spirit moves us, we will be like birds who never learned to fly.