Friday, March 14, 2008

Alice Walker in conversation with Saidiya Hartman (March 14, 2008, 7:38 AM)

We were so excited last night to see Alice Walker, I am still jumping up and down in my heart the next morning. This semester, I've invited my students to hang out with me on Thursdays. We've been to the theatre, to a lecture and now to an author event, since this Thursday get together started. We were a small group from College of Alameda last night at the Museum of the African Diaspora. Seated near the staircase where Alice Walker entered the room, was oh so exciting! Aisha chose such a great seat! I just wanted to take photo after photo of Alice Walker and Saifiya, both of whom were fighting colds. Walker, standing to my left, so close I could hug her, which I did in my mind, as she kept smiling at me.

Later on, my students and I took pictures with her. We couldn't help jumping up and down later on as we reflected on this great woman, who after 50 years has given her papers and writing to a university archive and now she says, "she's free."

Freedom, what a concept.

The evening was one of ancestor talk--Walker said they were her audience, they inspired her, and they pushed her. Similarly Saidiya felt the same--driven by an inexplicably powerful force that motivated as it aroused both women to do the work of repairing the damage.

After the talk, I felt even more charged and motivated. I saw a lot of friends, Carol Marie, Cornelius Moore and Stewart Shaw. I met a cute baby girl, six months old named Zora.

My class has just finished Alice Walker: A Life by Evelyn C. White--Belvie Rooks introduced her friend. This was another, "oh my gosh moment!" We'd read about her in the White book, which I highly recommend. Amy Goodman recommended the book to me after she was in conversation with Walker a few years ago at Media Alliance's anniversary fundraiser.

My Walker Wow moments are too numerous to count, but the last time I saw her, was at the Obama rally in San Francisco last year. She was the one who introduced him. When I saw her, I knew I was in the right place and that my faith was in the right man.

No one is perfect, but we certainly need to work on our souls daily and I think Obama is a man who is polishing his, just as I am polishing mine. But back to Walker. The conversation was suitably scholarly, but not so much to leave the audience out. What I hold close is Walker's tears when thinking about the ancestors and the work she was called to do. She spoke of Zora Neale Hurston's spiritual assistance in helping her find her grave in the cemetery where she placed the marker.

I also appreciated her sorrow over the displacement and killing of other species by human beings. I mourn over the death and impending deaths of the polar bears and the insects and the plants and so many other microscopic organisms we are ridding the earth of through our over consumption.

We are facilitating our own demise because I think the planet which was here before us will be here when we're gone.

Walker praised Saidiya for her book, Lose Your Mother, which I purchased that evening. In it Saidiya looks at the impact of the European slave trade on the black family, especially the mother. Walker referenced a section in the book where an African woman puts on shackles as a joke and the author gets angry. She is told later by an elder man that they don't talk about this loss, nor do they think about it much, because if they did they would be too sad and cry.

Walker said they need to be wailing! This comment followed her reflection on her first time to Africa and story she wrote about an African girl who commits suicide, a topic not explored much then or now. Walker said she loved Africa, but this love was not blind--there was much work there with the patriarchy and at the time when she first arrived as a college student in the '60s, female genital mutilation.

There was no Q&A, but afterwards the author spoke to her audience as she signed books. As I gazed at her, standing so close to my side, I marveled over her journey, one I saw in her face, in her smile, her wave, her pose, her settling into her chair as the microphone kept going off--I saw it in the way she poured the water after someone opened the top (which was too tight for her to loosen). I saw her journey in the glasses which covered her famous eyes--especially the right one which her daughter told her looked like the planet lived inside--how appropriate for a woman who loves the planet as much as she loves those who call it home.

It was just marvelous last night! I am still jumping up and down. We then went across the street to see the film: The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo which opened the Human Rights Watch Film Festival at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and then walked through the King Memorial Sculpture and waterfall --the wind was blowing and we welcomed the cleansing breeze. Afterwards we continued our moseying over to Mel's where we had a late dinner. Service was slow, but the burgers were good when they finally arrived.

The three of us began to plot our next move--Sweet Honey in the Rock was the next big stop, but the women said they come to Swarm next week to hear me on the panel at James Gayles' Jazz Masters Exhibition.


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