If you are reading this, it is because yet again the Great Listener has deemed my seeking worth finding. I am placing in this letter a few questions which I hope to learn your thoughts. It is May 31, 2022. I am sitting with news of massacres. I have spent the last few months with your writing, rereading The Color Purple and rewatching the movie of the same name. Checking your website for new blog entries.
Earlier this month, I interviewed you after reading your newest book, Gathering Blossoms Under Fire, 50 years of your journal entries. I am a little over halfway done with The Same River Twice, playing Quincy Jones’ Color Purple movie soundtrack while I write you this letter with dreams of someday hosting a live listening party with you and Quincy as our special guests. We would chat music, the Color Purple soundtrack, and review copies of Quincy’s new book–12 Notes on Life and Creativity, alongside your extensive catalogue. Big dreamer. I know.
I wrote your staff requesting an opportunity to share space with you at the beginning of the year, and I get that I am one of a billion people who have that same prayer, so when I didn’t hear back I was not astonished, just patient until Sara Lomax Reese, head of the oldest local radio station in Philadelphia, calls me up and asks if I’d like to interview Alice Walker, I say: YES! And then cut a step. Yes to the Great Listener. Wave my hand in the air. Yes to fate. Close my eyes. Inhale. Yes to Alice.
You won’t believe this but on December 31, 2021, I wrote down all my wildest dreams for 2022 and right on top of my list, under complete my memoir, was your name–have tea and chat with Alice Walker. The tea didn’t happen just yet (but I have hope). Our chat began at 6 pm on May 12th at the Comcast Technology Center. But how does one squeeze a lifetime of questions into a 45-minute interview where I must share half the questions with a co-host and 15 minutes of the interview on audience questions. The day before the interview, my sister said, “Just make sure you have one good question because that might be all you get.” And she was almost right. I got to ask you about love, flowers, reparations, finances, and fame. But I still have so many other questions.
I will not write them all here today. Just one: I want to know your visions for the future of this world and how you see us getting there. After reading the journal entries in Gathering Blossoms, I am challenged on how to teach folks, especially young folks, how to practically apply the lessons the book so eloquently layers in. For instance, I just finished watching a documentary on Hulu about XXXtentacion, a young rapper with millions of fans who was shot dead at 20 years old during the height of his tumultuous career.
I wanted to understand XXXtentacion more because my 18-year- old son damn near worships him. “XXXtentacion to me is what Alice Walker is to you,” my son explains. In the documentary, XXXtentacion, like Mister______, like your grandfather, has a deep mix of undesirable qualities alongside great fragility. These qualities are attractive to millions of young people who listen to XXXtentacion and feel heard. And I am aware that in Philly, it’s the 16–24-year-olds who are both the most at risk (highest murder rate, highest suicide rate, highest rape rate) and share the highest opportunity for growth. I am aware that the young person who shot and killed elders in a Buffalo grocery store was 18 years old. That the young person who shot and killed babies in a Texas elementary school was 18 years old. That the cadre of conductors working in our shops come there to restore their belief in connection. And these are young people who just came out of years spent in the captivity of a global pandemic. I just want to know from your perspective how to love them better. How to reach the otherwise unreachable. How to get as many of your books into desiring hands as possible. How to get us writing letters like Nettie. And freely expressing ourselves like Shug and Sofia. And restoring ourselves like Celie.
I believe that your books are medicine, a soul rejuvenating elixir that will protect and guide us through the days to come if we read, hear, and apply the wisdom.
signed a revolutionary petunia,
For the last 10 years, Jeannine Cook has worked as a trusted writer for several startups, corporations, non-profits, and influencers. In addition to a holding a master’s degree from The University of the Arts, Jeannine is a Leeway Art & Transformation Grantee and a winner of the South Philly Review Difference Maker Award. Jeannine’s work has been recognized by several news outlets including Vogue Magazine, INC, MSNBC, The Strategist, and the Washington Post. She recently returned from Nairobi, Kenya facilitating social justice creative writing with youth from 15 countries around the world. She writes about the complex intersections of motherhood, activism, and community. Her pieces are featured in several publications including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Root Quarterly, Printworks, and midnight & indigo. She is the proud new owner of Harriett’s Bookshop in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.