I wrote to Alice Walker, asking her to participate in a lecture
series I was organizing at the University of Michigan to celebrate the
fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Their Eyes Were Watching
God. She wrote me a gentle, encouraging rejection, which I've
saved, in part because internationally renowned people write to me
infrequently, but also because I was impressed by the envelope's
lowercased designation of the author as a walker.
Ignoring the injunction against equating fiction writer and fic-
tional character, I connected Walker with her restless, militant char-
acter Meridian, who marches tirelessly for justice during the civil
rights movement. a walker, I concluded, connotes restlessness, a
searching self who knows that truth, like love, is what Walker's
forebear, Zora Neale Hurston, calls "uh movin' thing" that "takes its
shape from de shore it meets, and it's different at every shore"
Who knows that in order to comprehend a world structured in
dominance, "you got tuh go there," to search literally and figura-
tively through, among other potentially instructive sites, our moth-
ers' gardens and our fathers' trunks. The quotidian objects that
mark these familial spaces-rusty rakes, splashes of color, and the
thorny remnants of neglected perennials; well-preserved pictures,
unattached, odd-shaped buttons, and the faint odor of a long-wilted
carnation-contain memories suffused with encoded meanings that
we can begin to unpack only if we are both attentive and creative.
I felt inspired by Walker's example to order my own stationery. I
experimented with color and font, and with paper grade. But ul-
timately my efforts failed to yield enveloping richness.
what Toni Morrison calls in Sula "a nigger joke," "the kind white
folks tell when the mill closes down and they're looking for a little
comfort somewhere. The kind colored folk tell on themselves when
the rain doesn't come, or comes for weeks, and they're looking for a
little comfort somehow" (4). As I made huge analytical leaps to
connect Walker's symbol, Morrison's formulation, and my name, I
remembered long, guilt-filled moments when I wished that instead