Shambhala Sun | November 2013
Alice Walker: The Beautiful Truth
From her childhood in the Jim Crow South to her ascent as a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Alice Walker has been on a journey to see things as they really are. COLLEEN MORTON BUSCH explores Walker’s life, work, and spiritual path.
If The Color Purple is a “Buddha book that’s not Buddhism”—as author Alice Walker once described her Pulitzer Prize winning novel—Walker’s own spirituality might be called a Buddha path that’s not Buddhist. Walker has long been a meditator, and she credits Pema Chödrön’s teachings on awakening compassion with helping to open her heart, again and again. But Walker doesn’t consider herself Buddhist. She draws on many spiritual teachings and pledges allegiance to none.
As an author and activist, she is known for searing portraits of difficult subjects, but when I meet her on a warm afternoon in Berkeley, California, she radiates a quiet wonder and steadfast appreciation for the unadorned bounty of the Earth, including the red Russian kale leaf that seems to grow bigger by the minute in the planter bed in her garden. “The one that looked as big as my hand last night is almost twice as big as my hand now,” she says. “That’s what I like to watch.”
Walker greets me just inside the garden gate at her home, wearing a soft, loose-fitting, blue linen outfit, her hair short and smoky gray. She leads me briskly through the sun-drenched garden to the living room, past a bench lined with copies of her latest books, and settles on her sofa, legs outstretched.
Walker is not one to stay within prescribed lines or to heed perceived limitations, whether in her spiritual path, her art, or her life. She has loved and partnered with men and women.
She’s a poet, novelist, essayist, and blogger whose writing has garnered both lavish praise and stinging criticism. She’s an activist, seeker, and meditator — though for Walker meditation comes in as many varieties and uses as the kale she blends into breakfast smoothies or sautés for supper.
This year, Walker celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of her Pulitzer Prize (and National Book Award) for The Color Purple and the release of Beauty in Truth, a documentary about her life that premiered in London to sold-out crowds. She has published more than thirty books, most recently poetry (The World Will Follow Joy) and journal-like essays (The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way). Early next year, she will turn seventy.
Pratibha Parmar, the director of Beauty in Truth, felt “transported safely across the threshold of another world full of possibilities” the first time she read Walker. The book was In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. And what is a garden if not a world of possibility? Walker loves to plant seeds and see what grows, just as her mother did before her. “Hers was a literal garden,” she says, “but my garden is basically everything.”