Alice Walker Talks About Feminism, But Not About Motherhood

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Walker at her California Hall of Fame induction in December. Photo: Getty Images


There was an everydaughter-size elephant in the auditorium last night as old friends Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker, in conversation at the 92nd Street Y, talked about almost everything — meditation, California, Rwanda, George Bush (he's bad!), peaches (mean freedom!), and mothers (complicated!). But they did not talk about Walker's daughter, Rebecca, the feminist writer — and also Steinem’s goddaughter — who revealed in her recent book, Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence that she is estranged from her Pulitzer-winning parent. (Okay, maybe it wasn't entirely surprising: In Rebecca's earlier book Black, White and Jewish, she wrote about feeling emotionally neglected as a child.) “I am always happy to talk about my mother,” said Walker at the discussion. “My mother was a big woman, a strong woman, a beautiful woman, a woman who could not be beaten.” But there wasn't a word on being a mother herself — not that there weren't opportunities.

Steinem was asked if there was a moment she realized she didn't define herself merely as a wife and mother, and she said it hit her when she was neglected as a child. “I didn’t know what I wanted to say ‘yes’ to, but I did know what I wanted to say ‘no’ to,” she answered as Walker nodded emphatically, chiming, “Yeah, ha.” A question from the audience was about writer’s block. “I have never experienced writer’s block,” Walker said. “And in fact, I don’t even understand it. When I started a novel, I would also start a quilt or play with my dog or visit friends or do something that has nothing to do with writing.” Playing with her daughter wasn't on the list. “If there’s one thing I’m addicted to,” Walker said at one point. “It’s solitude.” —Emma Pearse