Robert Hemenway 1941-2015: The Fiesta of Rediscovering America

Robert Emery Hemenway (August 10, 1941–July 31, 2015) Alice Walker


The Fiesta of Rediscovering America: An Open Letter To Robert Hemenway, Passing: 1941-2015

© 2015 by Alice Walker


Dear Bob,

Since I was a child I’ve wondered where the spirit goes when people die.  So I’m wondering where yours is now, whether you’re in transit, resting, or already back (wherever back might be) continuing on your never-ending journey.  This is one of the reasons we both loved Zora, you know; that she recognized the illusory nature of everything.  That is why she went to all those healers and shamans and “witch doctors” that had her lying around sometimes naked and stuff.  She was trying to pierce the veil of this “reality” which never seemed sufficiently “real” to her.

Valerie told me you left us.  I had not known.  When she told me, I suddenly saw your warm, round, pink face.  I saw your smile.  Heard you chuckle.  Saw that funny hat you wore as Chancellor of your University. Thought about that brown leather jacket of yours that I liked.

You were such a surprise, Bob.  Someone who loved Zora as much as I did, but that was because, as Valerie and I have decided, you were a “white man” with the heart and sense of humor of a black woman.  She says she told you she thought you were “passing” and that you laughed.

We will miss you.  But lucky for me, and for Valerie, we didn’t miss you while you were here.  Which seems to be the profit of the thing, as Zora might say.

America (our part of it) reminds me of a fiesta that might have been the happiest and friendliest on earth, but instead everyone at the party seems to have had, and to have, the most dreadful time.  It is a waste, but one the three of us together, in this instance, missed. Or the four of us I should say, because after all, it was Zora who connected us.

The lie of the dying America, that we are so separate we can never get along, is chipped away by collaborations of people who seem different but are connected by passion, adventure, spirit and love.  What will make America new?  Rediscovering it together.  As we have.

We love you Bob.

Go on with your bad self!


Zora, Valerie, Alice


*Robert Hemenway, author of Zora Neale Hurston, a Literary Biography

*Valerie Boyd, author of Wrapped In Rainbows, The Life  of Zora Neale Hurston

Alice Walker, author of I Love Myself When I Am Laughing, And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive, a Zora Neale Hurston Reader.

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