Definitions and Discussions of Culture


Garden

Alice Walker, "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens"





Alice Walker(1944-present) is an acclaimed essayist, poet, and novelist; her novel TheColor Purple won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983. Walker, who grew up asin a family of sharecroppers in Eatonton, Ga., has often written about thelives of African Americans in the South. In this excerpt from her often-anthologizedessay "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens," Walker reflects onthe repression of genius suffered by African-American women through centuriesas slaves and members of an oppressed cultural group. Throughout the essay,Walker emphasizes the outlets which African-American women found to expresstheir genius; her mother, in the example which provides the essay's title,expresses her creativity in the artistry of her garden.

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What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers'time? In our great-grandmothers' day? It is a question with an answer cruelenough to stop the blood.

Did you have a genius of a great-great-grandmother who died under some ignorantand depraved white overseer's lash? Or was she required to bake biscuitsfor a lazy backwater tramp, when she cried out in her soul to paint watercolorsof sunsets, or the rain falling on the green and peaceful pasturelands?or was her body broken and forced to bear children (who were more oftenthan not sold away from her)—eight, ten, fifteen, twenty children—whenher one joy was the thought of modeling heroic figures of rebellion, instone or clay?

How was the creativity of the black woman kept alive, year after year andcentury after century, when for most of the years black people have beenin America, it was a punishable crime for a black person to read or write?And the freedom to paint, to sculpt, to expand the mind with action didnot exist. Consider, if you can bear to imagine it, what might have beenthe result if singing, too, had been forbidden by law. Listen to the voicesof Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, and ArethaFranklin, among others, and imagine those voices muzzled for life. Thenyou may begin to comprehend the lives of our "crazy," "Sainted"mothers and grandmothers. The agony of the lives of women who might havebeen Poets, Novelists, Essayists, and Short-Story Writers (over a periodof centuries), who died with their real gifts stifled within them.

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Garden