Last night, I felt plain tired and sick. I was sniffling; I missed my comfortable bed; I missed my snuggly dogs. I turned to my Kindle for comfort, to a collection of interviews and conversations with American author Alice Walker. As I was reading the biographical introduction, I marveled that Walker had lived in Greenwich with her husband in 1967. Surely, I already knew this? I felt less sniffly and snivelly and fell asleep peacefully, resolving to find Walker’s Greenwich home the very next morning.
Maybe a little background here: I credit Alice Walker with my getting into this business. And although I’m often cursing academia, I’m never cursing the writers that inspire me and teach me. When I was 16, I saw the film version of The Color Purple and then went straight for the book. A cliché story: I was a young southern female, greatly moved by this work. When I interviewed for a spot in creative writing at our local fine arts school, I was asked the “desert island” book question, and The Color Purple was my answer. Ten years later, when I was formulating a dissertation topic, I knew I wanted to write about southern women writers and popular music. I knew that I had to write about The Color Purple. And I did. And the more I read of and learned about Alice Walker, the more I appreciated her. She has the ability to describe the complexity of social issues. In her writing, she’s never faulting just one member or group; she’s exposing how we ALL contribute to issues of race, class, gender, and sexual prejudices. And she often does it through beautiful stories about men and women in the South. To return to the theme of political art that appears so often in my posts, Walker seems to combine the personal, the political, the artistic, and the spiritual very well. In her life, she’s an activist; in her art, she exposes readers to issues that might create activists out of us. In me, she spurred a love of contemporary American/southern literature that led to a job that lets me study and talk to others about literature. In other words, in certain ways, she got me here where I am today.
So, that’s why, when I was sniffling and sniveling and maybe missing home a little, I was comforted to think that, in 1967, Walker was working on her first novel in the Village. That’s why, this morning, I set out to find her Washington Square home. Imagine my surprise, as I turned the corner on Washington Square West, when I found the building was the same building (now NYU owned) where I eat breakfast nearly every morning. There’s something full circle, something romantic, something star-aligned, about this—about Alice Walker’s life and work inspiring a 16-year-old me to write and to later pursue a career in literature. And now almost twenty years later, without even meaning to and without even knowing it, I am right where Walker began her fiction writing career. Looks like I’m not only following Carson. That’s the magic of and the history of the arts in this city.