I used to be really afraid that I would never be able to do meaningful- enough work to compete with my mother," says Rebecca Walker, daughter of renowned author, poet, and activist Alice Walker, "but I don't really have that anymore. I feel really grounded in what I do."
Walker has worked very hard to claim her own place in the writing and political world. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Elle, Ms., and Spin. She edited an anthology which explores young women's struggles to redefine feminism, To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face Of Feminism, as well as a collection of writings by young women titled Body Outlaws. She has spoken around the country on behalf of the Third Wave Foundation, an organization made up of primarily young, multicultural feminists, which she founded in 1992. She was also named one of the 50 future leaders of America under 40 by Time.
Right now she's beginning a second round of promoting for her autobiography, Black White and Jewish: Autobiography Of a Shifting Self (Riverhead Books), which was first released last year and has recently come out in paperback.
Black White and Jewish is a moving collection of very personal and revealing moments from Walker's life growing up as the daughter of a black, Pulitzer Prize-winning mother and a white, Jewish father, former NAACP lawyer Mel Leventhal.
"I spent the whole time I was writing [the book] basically terrified that if I told my story my parents wouldn't love me anymore, or they'd be angry at me," Walker says. "You know it's hard for parents to look at the decisions they made and how it might have affected their kids in a way that wasn't so great."
Walker's parents were married in the Sixties, when, among the many other movements that deconstructed norms, the radical voice of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement were at full strength.
Walker writes, "I was born in 1969, in Jackson, Mississippi, seventeen months after Dr. King was shot. When my mother went into labor my father was in New Orleans arguing a case on behalf of black people who didn't have streetlights or sewage systems in their neighborhoods."
According to Walker, with the rise of Black Power in the Seventies, her parents' "interracial defiance" and euphoria began to deflate. "Black-on-black love" became the new way of revolution.
"The only problem, of course, is me. My little copper-colored body that no longer makes sense. I am a remnant, a throwaway, a painful reminder of a happier and more optimistic but ultimately unsustainable time. Who am I if I am not a Movement Child?" writes Walker.
Walker writes in fragments not long chronological narratives. It's a gutsy style which allows the reader to make some of her own inferences as to why certain memories are juxtaposed with other memories. Meaning surfaces slowly.
"I was looking for an 'I,' a self in writing, words, in pages, that really was a good representation of the way I experienced myself, and so that fragmentive form became the way I do that -- that sense of constantly moving back and forth between then and now and between different places," says Walker. "I came out of it feeling much more whole and integrated. And also it was about adolescence, and I think it allowed me to just put all those adolescent issues to bed and move into adulthood without so much baggage and confusion."
Having through her memoir shed some of her inner turmoil, Walker isn't sweating the outside pressure either. On her recent recognition from Time, Walker says, "I was really flattered, and it's nice when people say things about you, but I don't really think of it as real. It has some reality, I guess, but I can't live my life thinking about Time magazine."
Rebecca Walker will be reading and signing books at Square Books (662- 536-2262) in Oxford on Tuesday, January 22nd, at 5 p.m. and at Davis-Kidd Booksellers (683-9801) on Wednesday, January 23rd, at 6 p.m.