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Alice Walker Delivers Keynote Speech at Symposium on Race, Justice, and Reconciliation

On Sunday night, hundreds crowded into Agnes Scott College’s Presser Hall, clutching books and excitedly waiting to hear Alice Walker speak. In the sold-out event, the world-renowned writer, poet, and activist spent an evening at Agnes Scott lecturing as the keynote speaker for the 2018 Gay Johnson McDougall Symposium on Race, Justice, and Reconciliation.

Image: Alice Walker and Valerie Boyd in conversation. Photo courtesy of Agnes Scott College


Walker is a bestselling author of seven novels, four collections of short stories, children’s books, and multiple volumes of poetry and essays. She is the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in Literature for her novel The Color Purple, which also won her a National Book Award.

She was introduced by Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center and Women’s Studies professor at Spelman College.  

Walker began by imparting a piece of vital wisdom onto the audience — the importance of naps. A firm believer in the spiritual and mental value of meditation, Walker also appreciates naps as essential to learning. “When you’re in university,” she said, “they like to pile on lots of stuff, but don’t let that phase you if you’re on your way to a nap.”

Though she began lightly, Walker quickly settled in to reflect on the incredible life and legacy of anti-apartheid activist Winnie Mandela, who died earlier this month on April 2nd. Walker’s work has been woven through the narrative of Winnie Mandela’s life; her poem “Winnie Mandela, We Love You was read at Mandela’s funeral, and Walker was asked to read a poem for Mandela’s 80th birthday celebration.

Over the course of the night, she shared a few of her poems, including one which she wrote on her experience standing in the cell in which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.

Following her speech, Walker engaged in an audience Q&A mediated by Valerie Boyd, author and associate professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. Boyd is the editor of a volume of Walker’s personal journals, Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker, which will be published next year.

In her answers to a combination of questions from Boyd and the audience, she talked about the peace and restoration she gains from meditation, warned against debt and alcohol, and shared her mixed feelings about the 2018 film Black Panther. She lauded the film’s creativity but found it too violent. Walker shared her concern that the success of the film drew important attention away from Winnie Mandela’s funeral.

“We end up falling for fiction when actually the truth is so much more incredible,” she said.

Throughout the night, Walker’s points continued to touch upon how we interact with one another, imploring the audience to find within themselves ways to be more human.

“Whatever is going on, whatever people are accused of, whatever we might be accused of, there’s always the possibility of there being in each of us light and darkness, confusion and clarity, peace and war,” she shared.

“And that in order for us in this country to make a better show of what we’ve been trying to accomplish, we have to look a lot more deeply into the shadows that we carry, and we have to start to make amends for some of the evils that we have done to each other.”


Elizabeth Wolfe

Agnes Scott '18

Elizabeth is the Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus Agnes Scott. As a Junior at Agnes Scott, she is majoring in English-Literature and Political Science with a focus on human rights. Currently, she is an intern for Atlanta's premier alt-weekly magazine Creative Loafing.
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