Alice Walker sews and tells

Author and activist Alice Walker has long championed the quilt. For the narrator of her story "Everyday Use," quilts aren't simply objects of beauty and handiwork, but industrious articles meant to be used as well as learned from. Walker's writing has reinforced the symbol of handmade blankets in American history, calling attention to the ways culture and tradition have passed through the hands of women. When Emory University opens the Alice Walker Archive to the public Thurs., April 23, with the exhibit A Keeping of Records: The Art and Life of Alice Walker, the center of attention will likely be a quilt Walker made nearly 30 years ago while writing The Color Purple.
Emory first acquired the archive from Walker in 2007. It's a massive collection of documents and ephemera that encompasses almost all of the author's life. Included are drafts of every manuscript, along with letters, photographs, and a scrapbook she started keeping as a teenager. "It is evidence of Walker's belief and self-awareness that she would become an important American writer," curator Rudolph P. Byrd has said of the collection. A Keeping of Records will showcase 200 of the archive's items.   

Though civil rights activism has often taken her far from home, including a recent trip to Gaza Strip with the anti-war group CodePink, Walker's roots are in Georgia. She was born in 1944 to sharecropping parents in Eatonton, 80 miles southeast of Atlanta. She attended Spelman College on scholarship for part of her undergraduate studies, and volunteered to register voters in Georgia as well as Mississippi. It's a fitting decision that her archive will remain in Georgia with Emory.
To coincide with the opening, Emory's arranged a daylong symposium of nine scholars celebrating and discussing Walker's work on Fri., April 24. Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States who taught Walker while she was a student at Spelman, is scheduled to speak, as well as feminist activist Gloria Steinem. Walker concludes the events herself Friday night with a free presentation at Glenn Memorial Auditorium.

Though her fiction continues to be widely read and celebrated — The Color Purple has even been adapted into a Broadway musical — Walker's recently distanced herself from the writer's life. She devotes time to political work, calling attention to the siege in Gaza or political prisoners in Burma, and also blogs about gardening. Like her quilt that will hang for only two days at Emory, she remains devoted to hard work as well as art.

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