Wise Elder: An Interview with Alice Walker
(by Lee Stephen Gawtry)
This interview with Author Alice Walker first appeared on Watkins Mind Body Spirit, Issue 39.
Alice Walker is one of the most prolific authors of our time, known for her literary fiction, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple; her many volumes of poetry; and her powerful non-fiction, including We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For.
‘I suppose I experience “spirituality” in much the way a tree does, or a deer. I am simply inseparable from something incredibly vast, unknowable, loving.’ Alice Walker
LSG: Your journey from The Colour Purple to The Cushion in the Road has taken you from famous writer to wise elder. In older societies and indigenous cultures, elders were honoured and had an important role to play in the life of the tribe or community. Do you think that still happens today, or do you think we need to do more to encourage people to share their wisdom and experience?
ALICE: All that is required to encourage wisdom from elders is respect. As a child I found old people in my community willing to offer whatever information they had. What was required of us? The patience and courtesy of listening. That was all. Elders liked to give things, including advice. But this was because no one was ever encouraged – as people are in sit-coms – to laugh at them. Ever. I have the deepest awareness that it is wrong to laugh at an elder who is attempting to share experience. If a giggle begins to build in spite of yourself, leave the room.
LSG: If you were able to meet your younger self now, what words of advice would you offer her?
ALICE: The wonders of this world are endless. You might say relentless. You are right to be amazed. If you are ever tempted to leave this reality before it is time, endure one more night. Each day is different.
LSG: Spirituality means different things to different people. What does it mean to you and how do you incorporate it in your life?
ALICE: I can’t see it for being it. In that sense I suppose I experience “spirituality” in much the way a tree does, or a deer. I am simply inseparable from something incredibly vast, unknowable, loving. Profound. There’s probably going to be time, on Earth or maybe Elsewhere (who knows!) to experience Being everything. It is long, ultimately, eternity. Such a journey. Such a gift. Never to not be. I am excited just thinking about it. And, since I am by nature the most curious of souls, my one wish would be to see, even as an entity without a body or physical eyes, where I am! I’m sure I’d want to praise it.
LSG: I love the title of your previous non-fiction book: We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For. It captures perfectly the message that seems to have developed through your writing over the years – that we create our own destiny and can all be a force for positive change in the world. How does the future look from your cushion in the road?
ALICE: Humans have abused their gift: the gift of life, the gift of having so much difference among ourselves to glory in, the wonderful joy of sharing with others. How we can bear to accept that people are left alone to die by the millions: of disease, of lack of food and water, of shelter, has to mean no great future for humankind. Can this wound be healed? Is there time? Probably not. We are like someone wearing an old cloak that, caught on a bramble, starts to unravel as the snow falls: we trudge onward thinking we will remain warm, while with every step our nakedness grows. It is impossible to brutalize others without succumbing to brutality yourself. To nakedness, to harm. And if there is no bright future toward which to aspire, regardless of those who are still comfortable enough to prophesy one, what then?
In my opinion, this is actually a time to shine resplendently: much as the setting sun does, scattering some clouds and making art of others, as it sinks from our view. We might be small, we might seem ineffectual to those who like blockbusters of various sorts, or who deal in the illusion that the sun is always rising, but we have a chance to stand for what benefits the whole; to love intensely where the demonstration of loving behavior is mocked by its withholding, to go to the places that are terrorizing the world and to plant flags of gratitude that we exist on this planet, at this moment, to endure whatever madness has befallen us, together.
Alice Walker, interviews, issue 39, spirituality