The great Pulitzer Prize winning author talked about herself, her writing and her passion. As the author of The Color Purple, she attracted people of all colors, sizes, shapes and backgrounds to hear her. In fact, the tickets sold out in the first twenty minutes. Seeing her was an amazing experience for me as a person and even more so for me as a writer.
She was the eighth of eight children. Her early life was far from enlightened. But she said, “The Walkers were known for reading.” Imagine that! My guess is she had a lot more encouragement from her family and teachers than one might imagine in this impoverished community. After she graduated from high school, she won a scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta. Then she went to Sarah Lawrence where she studied English and poetry. She left her small town of Eatonton and never returned. Her life has taken her around the globe.
One story she told struck me as a writer. She said while in college she felt shy about her writing. She’d written a book of poems that she had not shown anyone. Too embarrassed to give them to her teacher, she slid them under the door to the teacher’s office. The teacher was so struck by her talent, that she immediately sent the poems to the New Yorker Magazine. Even though the New Yorker turned them down (how foolish!), the fact that her teacher acknowledged her talent meant a lot to the budding poet. It gave her the confidence to move forward and to become the writer she is today.
That story stuck with me for several reasons. A single response from a teacher can have lasting effects, good and bad. In Alice Walker’s case it was a momentous event in her writing journey. The rejection from the New Yorker didn’t discourage the young writer. Instead, she considered it an honor to be considered for that prestigious magazine.
We as writers, as mentors, as teachers must watch the feedback we give those who respect us. We must also not allow the rejections we will inevitably encounter discourage; instead, they must encourage us to become better.
Here are some memorable quotes from Alice Walker’s presentation:
Reading is the door to the you that you will become.
On dying: Going through that final door must be the greatest adventure yet.
There is something to be said for being the flower that you are.
If we don’t recognize ourselves as earthlings, we will remain divided.
Protect your mind from other people’s garbage (on television).
If you swallow one lie, you’ll have indigestion for the rest of your life.
What writers or teachers have inspired you?