Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” for February 26, 2009

 

Alice Walker

Alice Walker

 

The thrust of Walker’s essay is relatively simple to understand, and is made most explicit when she states, 

What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers’ time?  In our great-grandmothers’ day?…How was the creativity of the black woman kept alive, year after year and century after century, when for most of the years black people have been in 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 did not exist.

Walker wants the readers to consider how the will to artistically create is ineluctably linked to the will to survive, especially for those in society who have historically been denied any and all expressions of freedom, including creativity.  It is within this link between survival and creativity that Walker opens up a new way in which to think about artistry, specifically the artistry of African American women, by considering the smallest efforts at preserving momentary “beauties” as herculean efforts at maintaining humanity.  Under her perspective, survival itself becomes an act of artistry.

She uses Phillis Wheatley as an exemplar of this mode of artistry as survival, survival as artistry.  Her use of Virginia Woolf’s notion of “a room of one’s own” effectively contextualizes the creative will of African American women as embodied by Wheatley, and makes explicit the power of that will.

How can we apply Walker’s idea to the broader notion of an African American literary tradition?

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” for February 26, 2009

  1. Jason Sikma

    Alice Walker describes her stories and others stories belonging to her mother. What can be learned through these mother’s and grandmother’s stories from generations where African American women were allowed little artistic expression?

  2. Whitney Harmon

    Walker talks about how many African American women were forced to wait on white people hand and foot and forced to produce many babies, when all they really wanted to do was paint and write and express their creativity. It was considered a crime to write or read and freedom to sculpt, paint and expand the mind was nonexistent for African American women. She goes on to talk about imagining if Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday’s voices had been “muzzled for life.” That really effected me and it made me wonder what the real motive behind not allowing African American people to express themselves creatively was? Were white people scared that the African American people would find out they were actually equals if they could paint and write? Were they afraid that it could instill a feeling of hope in the African American people? Or were they afraid that the African American painters or writers may be better than they were?

  3. Leslie Lambert

    In Alice Walker’s essay In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens she states “To be an artist and a black woman, even today, lower our status in many respects, rather than raises it…” (pg 405). Why is this? In what respects does expressing oneself, especially, when for so long one could not, lower one’s status?

  4. marissa m.

    In Walker’s discussion of Phillis Wheatley, she talks about “contrary instincts.” What are these “contrary instincts” and do they apply to all African American female artists? Was Wheatley torn in her duties to the white family and her culture, or was she torn about being an artist and a black woman?

  5. kristina long

    If it was still considered a crime for women, or possibly youth, or middle/lower class to be artistically creative would the world be a different place? Would the ideas and issues surrounding racism, indivisualism, ect. still be out in the open and able to be noticed?

  6. Tom C

    Alice Walker says “did my mother have time to know or care about feeding the creative spirit” my question is does Walker feel that being a woman and a mother take away from being creative? Is it not possible that in fact raising a child could be your own style of creativity?

  7. Jennifer Kurz

    Alice Walker, in her essay “In Search of Our Mothers Gardens,” speaks to other African-American women by saying, “Therefore we must fearlessly pull out of ourselves and look at and identify with our lives the living creativity some of our great-grandmothers were not allowed to know.” Is she saying this because she thinks that talented black women aren’t expressing themselves enough? If so, isn’t it possible that what she considers art, has evolved into something else (just as expressive), and now African-American women find beauty and spirituality on a broader scale?

  8. Elliott Lamp

    Well the fact that art and literary writings are similar in the fact that they are both socially unacceptable for African Americans to partake in. The African Americans of the past used other things like gardens and quilts to show there artistic ways. Because of that I see no question artists will always exemplify themselves through all the things that do, whether it is gardening or quilting. Art will not just fade away if some one says that it is not acceptable, because art mends and molds to society and is always current.

  9. Brad Pearce

    In this essay is Alice Walker appreciating the artistic value of traditional women’s household activities? Does she consider storytelling to be just one facet of this? If so, is Alice Walker trying to place herself and other African-American Woman writers into a long tradition of storytelling?

  10. kristenmnelson

    Alice Walker makes the point that African American women created art where they could–in quilts, flowers, song, etc. However, if African Americans had historically been able to create what is more widely recognized as be art (literature, painting, sculpting) would a black aesthetic have formed much earlier in history? As it progressed into the present, would African American art be distinguishable white American art?

  11. Jenna Currie

    In this essay, Walker focuses on many personal references when she is not referencing other author’s stories. She uses somewhat of a personal non-fictional tone and sense of storytelling to explain many of her points. Does she use this style of writing to help portray and express her points in a certain way, or is this just her style of writing?

  12. Katie Joseph

    Alice Walker talks about African American Art work and the different types of art forms. Is White American art work molding African art work into something it’s not, or should not be?

  13. Alice Walker identifies many other black women authors in her writing as well as discussing the creativity of her own mother…does she do this in order to gives examples of the different forms of creativity as well as her own?

  14. Arie Henry

    Alice Walker’s emphasis is, of course, on the survival of art. In applying this idea to its connection to African American literary tradition, the theme of survival remains constant. In what various ways can it be argued that African American art has endured and survived and retained the beauty the Walker champions?

  15. Katie Myers

    How is African American art and creativity different from men and women, and how it portrayed differently in modern times then back in “our grandparents” day? What kind of artistic expression is the limit when it comes to our creativity?

  16. Lindsey Bratonia

    Alice Walker writes “In the still heat of the post-reconstruction south, this is how they seemed to Jean Toomer, exquisite butterflies trapped in a n evil honey, toiling away their lives in an era, a century, that did not acknowledge them, except as the “mule of the world.” She writes later on about her mother and how hard she worked providing for her family. Did being this “mule to the world” make their art more profound, or is it seen as just holding them back from what they could have been? Had they not been viewed and treated this way would Black feminine art be completely different?

  17. Lynette M

    Alice Walker describes the creativity that her mother showed on a daily basis. She describes the quilts she and her mother made, the canning, the sewing, and other labors of her “working day.” We would consider all of these things a dying art today. How has cultural shifts with modern conveniences shaped the Black Artist? What things that we consider normal in our own “working day” will be seen as art in a hundred years?

  18. dmesick

    *our power just came back on so i apologize for this being late

    “Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of Beauty. Her face, as she prepares the Art that is her gift, is a legacy of respect she leaves to me, for all that illuminates and cherishes life.”

    Why does Alice Walker capitalize the words Beauty and Art at the end of this work? What is she trying to tell the reader?

  19. Jeff Gugliotto

    My power just came on moments ago after inconsistently turning on and off, I’m sorry it’s a little late.

    Alice Walker’s discusses the art of survival and the survival of art, stating, essentially, for one of these to exist the other does as well. This concept of art as broad, almost all encompassing, for any action in life readily pertains to the African American literary tradition.

    What are some explicit examples of intersections in which African American survival is art, and art is survival? Is there a pattern?

  20. Eric Irvin

    What the article talks about mostly is African American wemon and how they have kept alive creativitiy of art through out time. Creativity as in art work, poetry, journals, song, dance etc.. My question is what is the basic functions with in survival that needed to progress lituature as it is now?

  21. Jon Ecklund

    Art is said to be a reflection of self. Therefore, the persecution and maltreatment of African-Americans would have to be represented in their art. This would then make the struggle of African-Americans artists and the art they created even more astonishing and beautiful. Now, i ask if post-structuralism tries to seperate literature and its author, or the art and the artist, would it be virtuous to do so?

  22. Troy Alapit

    Due to the fact that the power was nonexistent this morning throughout the Pullman and Moscow area, this paper is going to be late. Anyhow throughout this essay Walker discusses issues regarding the oppression of Women to speak their voices through literature writers like Smith does, while at the same time she talks about the preservation of African American art, especially those pieces done by women. However my question is in regards to this passage in the reading where she states, “When we have pleaded for understanding, out character has been distorted; when we have asked for simple caring, we have been handed empty inspirational appellation, then stuck in the farthest corner. When we have asked for love, we have been given children” (pp. 405). My question is when she is saying that “We have asked for love, we have been given children” is she implying that many African American Women have been raped? Or is she implying that somehow she doesn’t like children or that Women in those days were forced to have children by men who wanted to pass on their “last names,” which is certainly a form of patriarchy?

  23. David Hagen

    On page 403, Walker writes: “How was the creativity of the black woman kept alive, year after year and century after century, when for most of the years black people have been in America, it was a punishable crime for a black person to read or write?
    To answer that question with further questions, why is the assumption made that creativity requires literacy? Surely there are other mediums by which to display one’s creativity. Isn’t storytelling a prime example of creativity, with each woman who tells a story creating it from her memory/experiences?

  24. Who were your favorite relatives?

  25. Adolf Johnson

    OH Niggers:)

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