© 2010 by Alice Walker

I woke this morning thinking of two recent audio books that I admire:  The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai andThe Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani.  I listened to both these books over the summer and they have haunted me ever since.  They are quite strong medicine and unquestionably powerful, if not for everyone.

The one set mostly in India tells more than I sometimes could absorb about the challenges of immigrating to this country from India, if you are poor; the other, set in ancient Iran, follows the life of a peasant village woman who develops into a designer and maker of fine carpets in a society that demands that, outside her house, she be completely subservient to men and also wear the chador.

It is a wonderful thing to be read to, and the narrators chosen for these novels, set in modern day India (and Manhattan) and 17th  century Persia (Iran) are superb.  It is easy enough to Google reviews, so I won’t attempt one here, and for all I know these books met with great notice and acclaim when they first appeared. I hope so.

I recently committed my own novel of twenty-eight years ago, The Color Purple, to audio: it is now available from Recorded Books.  The novel has had a long life as a book, then as a movie and then as a Broadway Musical (and still touring); the circle completes itself with the book read/told by me, as messenger from ancestors and kin I knew little of at the time of the story’s unfolding (before my birth), but loved nonetheless.

In my passion to locate more books by writers from other cultures I took a turn around the Kindle and Amazon sites, to discover something that seems truly amazing: books by black authors are segregated by race!  This would be hilarious if it were not so troubling.  If, after all of our struggle to integrate into this questionable system we may enter a bookstore and stand anywhere, but our books must reside in a corner, the world has not changed nearly as much as I, for one, assumed it had.

There are writers from Iran, Japan, Ireland, England, India, China, Israel, Korea, Tibet etc., all listed and shown to be writers of Literature.  But when looking for my own novel (which world wide has sold perhaps fifteen million copies) I found it tucked away with twelve or so books by other African Americans under African American Literature.  To make matters worse, no one had bothered to read the book to verify the narrative.  A synopsis has the main character raped by her father rather than by her stepfather (her father was lynched when she was an infant) a point that is crucial to comprehending the dynamics of the heroine’s rise from disaster.

I had noticed this segregation before, disturbingly in a Borders bookstore in Berkeley/Emeryville.  There books by African Americans, all twenty-five or so of them, were stuffed into a dingy circular kiosk that looked as if it had not been straightened out or freshened in months.

Recalling the child I was who was not allowed into the public library of Eatonton, Georgia, I think of children, especially, who will receive a subliminal message that somehow literature by African Americans isn’t really Literature.  That it is a separate and smaller, i.e. lesser, creation.

What could be the rationale for such segregation, today, 2010, when our president and first lady and their children are African American?  When Oprah Winfrey sells more books by writers of all colors than is even imaginable.  Maybe booksellers assume black people only read books by other black people and want to find them quickly without having to consider what other writing might be going on in the rest of the world. There is also the amusing notion, held by some, that when black writers write about Life it isn’t about Life but about being black.  That this is ridiculous can be determined by thinking – for a moment, no more – that when white writers write about Life they are simply writing about being white.  Imagine how bored Charles Dickens would have been.

It is too late for segregated thinking; it harms by blinding us to what is most useful for us to know: how to survive as feelingly human; how to thrive, worship and dance in this life. As selves unique.

The Color Purple, for instance, whose first words are “Dear God” is about God.  About the need to abandon a God who is incapable of hearing us, and to find a God in Nature who not only listens to us but unfailingly responds.

We are beyond a rigid category of color, sex, or spirituality if we are truly alive.  Not to be alert to the challenges and wonders confronting humans today is to miss what could be the last chance to understand and celebrate the wonderful multi-everything mystery that we are.

The responsibility for changing literary segregation rests with readers.  Would you drink from a segregated water source?  Eat in a segregated restaurant?  Buy a dress where I could not try one on? Buy a book where black writers are discriminated against?
Changing our society and the world is up to us, even in what might appear to be small choices. Any hope of our communal happiness depends on our private honoring, to the best of our knowledge, of the dignity of all, and of what is right.

I woke this morning thinking of two recent audio books that I admire:  The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai andThe Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani.  I listened to both these books over the summer and they have haunted me ever since.  They are quite strong medicine and unquestionably powerful, if not for everyone.

The one set mostly in India tells more than I sometimes could absorb about the challenges of immigrating to this country from India, if you are poor; the other, set in ancient Iran, follows the life of a peasant village woman who develops into a designer and maker of fine carpets in a society that demands that, outside her house, she be completely subservient to men and also wear the chador.

It is a wonderful thing to be read to, and the narrators chosen for these novels, set in modern day India (and Manhattan) and 17th  century Persia (Iran) are superb.  It is easy enough to Google reviews, so I won’t attempt one here, and for all I know these books met with great notice and acclaim when they first appeared. I hope so.

I recently committed my own novel of twenty-eight years ago, The Color Purple, to audio: it is now available from Recorded Books.  The novel has had a long life as a book, then as a movie and then as a Broadway Musical (and still touring); the circle completes itself with the book read/told by me, as messenger from ancestors and kin I knew little of at the time of the story’s unfolding (before my birth), but loved nonetheless.

In my passion to locate more books by writers from other cultures I took a turn around the Kindle and Amazon sites, to discover something that seems truly amazing: books by black authors are segregated by race!  This would be hilarious if it were not so troubling.  If, after all of our struggle to integrate into this questionable system we may enter a bookstore and stand anywhere, but our books must reside in a corner, the world has not changed nearly as much as I, for one, assumed it had.

There are writers from Iran, Japan, Ireland, England, India, China, Israel, Korea, Tibet etc., all listed and shown to be writers of Literature.  But when looking for my own novel (which world wide has sold perhaps fifteen million copies) I found it tucked away with twelve or so books by other African Americans under African American Literature.  To make matters worse, no one had bothered to read the book to verify the narrative.  A synopsis has the main character raped by her father rather than by her stepfather (her father was lynched when she was an infant) a point that is crucial to comprehending the dynamics of the heroine’s rise from disaster.

I had noticed this segregation before, disturbingly in a Borders bookstore in Berkeley/Emeryville.  There books by African Americans, all twenty-five or so of them, were stuffed into a dingy circular kiosk that looked as if it had not been straightened out or freshened in months.

Recalling the child I was who was not allowed into the public library of Eatonton, Georgia, I think of children, especially, who will receive a subliminal message that somehow literature by African Americans isn’t really Literature.  That it is a separate and smaller, i.e. lesser, creation.

What could be the rationale for such segregation, today, 2010, when our president and first lady and their children are African American?  When Oprah Winfrey sells more books by writers of all colors than is even imaginable.  Maybe booksellers assume black people only read books by other black people and want to find them quickly without having to consider what other writing might be going on in the rest of the world. There is also the amusing notion, held by some, that when black writers write about Life it isn’t about Life but about being black.  That this is ridiculous can be determined by thinking – for a moment, no more – that when white writers write about Life they are simply writing about being white.  Imagine how bored Charles Dickens would have been.

It is too late for segregated thinking; it harms by blinding us to what is most useful for us to know: how to survive as feelingly human; how to thrive, worship and dance in this life. As selves unique.
The Color Purple, for instance, whose first words are “Dear God” is about God.  About the need to abandon a God who is incapable of hearing us, and to find a God in Nature who not only listens to us but unfailingly responds.

We are beyond a rigid category of color, sex, or spirituality if we are truly alive.  Not to be alert to the challenges and wonders confronting humans today is to miss what could be the last chance to understand and celebrate the wonderful multi-everything mystery that we are.

The responsibility for changing literary segregation rests with readers.  Would you drink from a segregated water source?  Eat in a segregated restaurant?  Buy a dress where I could not try one on? Buy a book where black writers are discriminated against?

Changing our society and the world is up to us, even in what might appear to be small choices. Any hope of our communal happiness depends on our private honoring, to the best of our knowledge, of the dignity of all, and of what is right.

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