"Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker"
Long before social media platforms provided a way for people to showcase every aspect of their daily lives, members of earlier generations chronicled their activities and thoughts in journals.
It’s probably safe to say that most of the Post War generation wouldn’t want the entire world to read those intimate personal thoughts, but Alice Walker decided to share hers so others could learn from her experiences.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author collaborated with her close friend and editor, Valerie Boyd, to have her journals published by Simon & Schuster. Her book, “Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker, 1965-2000” was published April 12.
That day was also the first book launch event, held in Eatonton at The Plaza Arts Center. Alice attended via Zoom from her home in northern California, through which she was interviewed by another dear friend of hers, Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, who is the Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies and English at Spelman College in Atlanta. Sadly, Editor Valerie Boyd succumbed to her fight with cancer two months before the book launch.
“I miss Valerie so much,” Alice expressed from her heart. “She was so staunch, so brave, so funny. …This was just part of our friendship. We never quarreled, never disagreed really over what was going to be in the journals. I trusted her completely. She was just someone who is irreplaceable in every way – my friend, my sister, my colleague. So, I will always miss her.”
More like a conversation with a friend over dinner than an interview, the discussion continued with Beverly and Alice talking about their shared experiences which are in the book. The two met in the early 60s when they were students at Spelman College and have maintained a connection.
“Tell us how you had the courage to share the most intimate, passionate, loving, sad portrait of anyone I have ever read (yourself),” Beverly asked.
“I totally embrace my humanity,” Alice explained. “This is how human beings operate; this is what we feel, how we love, how we discover. And if you look at any of the lives on this planet, you’ll find that’s very much what’s happening with most people. It’s part of elders’ responsibility to help you live more fully, and I want all the people on the planet to really enjoy being here. That’s really what I would like for people to see, that this is an incredible place.”
This theme prevailed throughout the hour-long interview -- the joy of living, the beauty of the earth, of her many friendships, and insights learned through her exploration of societies.
In response to questions from Beverly and also from audience members, Alice shared books that influenced her (books by Tolstoy, Albert Camus, Thomas Hardy, W.E.B. Du Bois); the most recent film she watched (“The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey”); places on her bucket list to visit (“None, after 60 years of travel, it’s great to stay home.”); her deepest spiritual teacher (Tu Kon Mon); contemporary authors she reads (Chimaamanda Ngozi Adichie and Honoree Fanonne Jeffers); and potential romances (She’s happy with her life with her little Yorkie, Eddie, but is open to “human possibilities”).
“How I managed to have all those romances is really a mystery to me because I love being alone. I love people a lot, but I’m really solitary,” Walker expounded, delighting the audience.
Some hints occasionally surfaced of the discriminatory, violent times leading up to and during the Civil Rights Movement that Walker had experienced; but her strength, confidence, and humor overshadowed those moments and inspired the listeners to read her journals to learn more.
“She gives such a sense of peace about life; I can’t wait to read her book now after hearing her,” audience member Shannon Davis, of Milledgeville, said after the program. “I was worried at first about it being on Zoom, but it was very intimate and was absolutely amazing,” her friend, Stephanie Roberts, added.
More than 150 people participated in the launch at The Plaza, many from around the country via Zoom and others in person. The event included a book sale, champagne toast, and cake made by Merci Beaucoup Fine Cakes & Pastries in Eatonton.
“Gathering Blossoms Under Fire” can be purchased at the Georgia Writers Museum in downtown Eatonton, on the Simon & Schuster website, Amazon, and other online bookstores.
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Article by Lynn Hobbs, as published in the May-June 2022 issue of Lakelife magazine.