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  • Written by Alice Walker
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On Sale: February 01, 2012
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-307-81696-2
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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"These are the stories that came to me to be told after the close of a magical marriage to an extraordinary man that ended in a less-than-magical divorce. I found myself unmoored, unmated, ungrounded in a way that challenged everything I'd ever thought about human relationships. Situated squarely in that terrifying paradise called freedom, precipitously out on so many emotional limbs, it was as if I had been born; and in fact I was being reborn as the woman I was to become."

So says Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker about her beautiful new book, in which "one of the best American writers today" (The Washington Post) gives us superb stories based on rich truths from her own experience. Imbued with Walker's wise philosophy and understanding of people, the spirit, sex and love, The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart begins with a lyrical, autobiographical story of a marriage set in the violent and volatile Deep South during the early years of the civil rights movement. Walker goes on to imagine stories that grew out of the life following that marriage—a life, she writes, that was "marked by deep sea-changes and transitions." These provocative stories showcase Walker's hard-won knowledge of love of many kinds and of the relationships that shape our lives, as well as her infectious sense of humor and joy. Filled with wonder at the power of the life force and of the capacity of human beings to move through love and loss and healing to love again, The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart is an enriching, passionate book by "a lavishly gifted writer" (The New York Times Book Review).


To My Young Husband

Memoir of a Marriage


A few days ago I went to see the little house on R. Street where we were so happy. Before traveling back to Mississippi I had not thought much about it. It seemed so far away, almost in another dimension. Whenever I did remember the house it was vibrant, filled with warmth and light, even though, as you know, a lot of my time there was served in rage, in anger, in hopelessness and despair. Days when the white white walls, cool against the brutal summer heat, were more bars than walls.

You do not talk to me now, a fate I could not have imagined twenty years ago. It is true we say the usual greetings, when we have to, over the phone: How are you? Have you heard from Our Child? But beyond that, really nothing. Nothing of the secrets, memories, good and bad, that we shared. Nothing of the laughter that used to creep up on us as we ate together late at night at the kitchen table—perhaps after one of your poker games—and then wash over us in a cackling wave. You were always helpless before anything that struck you as funny, and I reveled in the ease with which, urging each other on, sometimes in our own voices, more often in a welter of black and white Southern and Brooklyn and Yiddish accents—which always felt as if our grandparents were joking with each other—we’d crumple over our plates laughing, as tears came to our eyes. After tallying up your winnings—you usually did win—and taking a shower—as I chatted with you through the glass—you’d crawl wearily into bed. We’d roll toward each other’s outstretched arms, still chuckling, and sleep the sleep of the deeply amused.

I went back with the woman I love now. She had never been South, never been to Mississippi, though her grandparents are buried in one of the towns you used to sue racists in. We took the Natchez Trace from Memphis, stopping several times at points of interest along the way. Halfway to Jackson we stopped at what appeared to be a large vacant house, with a dogtrot that intrigued us from the road. But when we walked inside two women were quietly quilting. One of them was bent over a large wooden frame that covered most of the floor, like the one my mother used to have; the other sat in a rocking chair stitching together one of the most beautiful crazy quilts I’ve ever seen. It reminded me of the quilt I made while we were married, the one made of scraps from my African dresses. The huge dresses, kaftans really, that I sewed myself and wore when I was pregnant with Our Child.

The house on R. Street looked so small I did not recognize it at first. It was nearly dark by the time we found it, and sitting in a curve as it does it always seemed to be seeking anonymity. The tree we planted when Our Child was born and which I expected to tower over me, as Our Child now does, is not there; one reason I did not recognize the house. When I couldn’t decide whether the house I was staring at was the one we used to laugh so much in, I went next door and asked for the Belts. Mrs. Belt (Did I ever know her name and call her by it? Was it perhaps Mildred?) opened the door. She recognized me immediately. I told her I was looking for our house. She said: That’s it. She was surrounded by grandchildren. The little girl we knew, riding her tricycle about the yard, has made her a grandmother many times over. Her hair is pressed and waved, and is completely gray. She has aged. Though I know I have also, this shocks me. Mr. Belt soon comes to the door. He is graying as well, and has shaved his head. He is stocky and assertive. Self-satisfied. He insists on hugging me, which, because we’ve never hugged before, feels strange. He offers to walk me next door, and does.

Its gate is the only thing left of the wooden fence we put up. The sweet gum tree that dominated the backyard and turned to red and gold in autumn is dying. It is little more than a trunk. The yard itself, which I’ve thought of all these years as big, is tiny. I remember our dogs: Myshkin, the fickle beloved, stolen, leaving us to search and search and weep and weep; and Andrew, the German shepherd with the soulful eyes and tender heart, whose big teeth frightened me after Our Child was born.

The carport is miniscule. I wonder if you remember the steaks we used to grill there in summer, because the house was too hot for cooking, and the chilled Lambrusco we bought by the case to drink each night with dinner.

The woman who lives there now, whose first act on buying the house was to rip out my writing desk, either isn’t home or refuses to open the door. Not the same door we had, with its three panes at the top covered with plastic “stained glass.” No, an even tackier, more flimsy door, with the number 1443 affixed to its bottom in black vinyl and gold adhesive.

I am disappointed because I do want to see inside, and I want my lover to see it too. I want to show her the living room, where our red couches sat. The moon lamp. The low table made from a wooden door on which I kept flowers, leaves, Georgia field straw, in a gray crockery vase. The walls on which hung our Levy’s bread poster: The little black boy and “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy’s.” The white-and-black SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) poster of the large woman holding the small child, and the red-and-white one with the old man holding the hand of a small girl that helped me write about the bond between grandfather and granddaughter that is at the heart of my first novel. There by the kitchen door was the very funny Ernst lithograph, a somber Charles White drawing across from it.

In Tupelo where I lectured I saw an old friend who remembered the house better than I did. She remembered the smallness of the kitchen (which I’d never thought of as small) and how the round “captain’s table” we bought was wedged in a corner. She recalled the polished brown wood. Even the daisy-dotted placemats. The big yellow, brown-eyed daisy stuck to the brown refrigerator door.

I wanted to see the nondescript bathroom. If I looked into the mirror would I see the serious face I had then? The deeply sun-browned skin? The bushy hair? The grief that steadily undermined the gains in levity, after each of the assassinations of little known and unsung heroes; after the assassination of Dr. King?

I wanted to see Our Child’s room. From the porch I could see her yellow shutters, unchanged since we left. Yellow, to let her know right away that life can be cheerful and bright. I wanted to see our room. Its giant bed occupying most of the floor, in frank admission that bed was important to us and that whenever possible, especially after air-conditioning, that is where we stayed. Not making love only, but making a universe. Sleeping, eating, reading and writing books, listening to music, cuddling, talking on the phone, watching Mary Tyler Moore, playing with Our Child. Our rifle a silent sentry in the corner.

The old friend whom I saw in Tupelo still lives in Jackson. When we met two decades ago she had just come home from a college in the North where she taught literature. She’d decided to come back to Jackson, now that opportunities were opening up, thanks to you and so many others who gave some of their lives and sometimes all of their life, for this to happen. She hoped to marry her childhood sweetheart, raise a family, study law. Now she tells me she hates law. That it stifles her creativity and cuts her off from community and the life of the young. I tell her what I have recently heard of you. That, according to Our Child, you are now writing plays, and that this makes you happy. That you left civil rights law, at which you were brilliant, and are now quite successful in the corporate world. Though the writing of the plays makes me wonder if perhaps you too have found something missing in your chosen profession?

She remembers us, she says, as two of the happiest, most in love people she’d ever seen. It didn’t seem possible that we would ever part.

It is only days later, when I am back in California, that I realize she herself played a role in our drifting apart. This summer she has promised to come visit me, up in the country in Mendocino—where everyone my age has a secret, sorrowful past of loving and suffering during the Sixties time of war—and I will tell her what it was.

Maybe you remember her? Her name is F. It was she who placed a certain novel by a forgotten black woman novelist into my hands. I fell in love with both the novel and the novelist, who had died in obscurity while I was still reading the long-dead white writers, mostly male, pushed on everyone entering junior high. F.’s gift changed my life. I became obsessed, crazed with devotion. Passionate. All of this, especially the passion and devotion, I wanted to share with you.

You and I had always shared literature. Do you remember how, on our very first night alone together, in a motel room in Greenwood, Mississippi, we read the Bible to each other? And how we felt a special affinity with the poet who wrote “The Song of Solomon?” We’d barely met, and shared the room more out of fear than desire. It was a motel and an area that had not been “cleared.” Desegregated. We’d been spotted by hostile whites earlier in the day in the dining room. The next day, after our sleepless night, they would attempt to chase us out of town, perhaps run us off the road, but local black men courageously intervened.

Over the years we shared Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Tol- stoy. Orwell. Langston Hughes. Sean O’Faolain. Ellison. But you would not read the thin paperback novel by this black woman I loved. It was as if you drew a line, in this curious territory. I will love you completely, you seemed to say, except for this. But sharing this book with you seemed everything.

I wonder if you’ve read it, even now.

Our Child was conceived. Grew up. Went to a large Eastern university. Read the book. She found it there on the required reading list, where I and others labored for a decade to make sure it would be. She tells me now she read it before she even left home, when she was in her early teens. She says I presented it to her with a quiet intensity, and with a special look in my eyes. She says we used to read passages from it while we cooked dinner for each other, and that she used to join me as I laughed and sometimes cried.

What can one say at this late date, my young husband? Except what was surely surmised at the beginning of time. Life is a mystery. Also, love does not accept barriers of any kind. Not even that of Time itself. So that in the small house that seemed so large during the years of happiness we gave each other, I remain


Alice Walker|Author Q&A

About Alice Walker

Alice Walker - The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart
Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for her novel The Color Purple, which was preceded by The Third Life of Grange Copeland and Meridian. Her other bestselling novels include By the Light of My Father's Smile, Possessing the Secret of Joy and The Temple of My Familiar. She is also the author of two collections of short stories, three collections of essays, five volumes of poetry and several children's books. Her books have been translated into more than two dozen languages. Born in Eatonton, Georgia, Walker now lives in Northern California.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Alice Walker

If You're Loving, You'll Always Have Love:
By Evelyn C. White

In a Northern California enclave suppressed in a color spectrum of white, off-white, beige, and ashen gray, the home of Alice Walker is a shimmering azure. Picture the waters of the Caribbean. Think of those delectably sweet blue Popsicles you might have savored as a child (and the delight of a blue stripe on a poked-out pink tongue).

Inside the exquisitely appointed home, Walker awaits, warm and welcoming. She is still flush with happiness from a previous evening spent with friends, among them the supremely gifted African writer Ayi Kwei Armah (Two Thousand Seasons). About Alice, Armah recently said: "Because I see the quality of her work as such a clear expression of her life and values, I think of her as more than another writer I admire. I trust her as the best of friends. I love her."

As it happens, love is the theme of Walker's most recent book, about which she shared her thoughts as we sipped soothing cups of tea. By way of background (admittedly quick), Alice Walker was born in 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia, and attended Spelman College. She later transferred to Sarah Lawrence, graduating in 1966. Following her marriage to a Jewish civil-rights lawyer, the couple lived in Mississippi for nearly a decade. They divorced in 1976 and have a daughter.

Alice Walker is the author of twenty-three books ranging from Once (1968) to The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart (2000). Her advocacy on behalf of the dispossessed has spanned the globe.

Q: The Way Forward examines love in all its permutations. As you assess the union from this distance, what prompted you to get married?

A: First and foremost, I was very much in love with my husband. We lived together from almost the instant we met. There was a long tradition of white men having black mistresses in the South. That was not going to be my path. So, when he graduated from law school and we decided to return to Mississippi, I put it very bluntly that we were to be married. He was thrilled to oblige. Our marriage was also an opportunity to resist the antimiscegenation laws. We were in solidarity with Loving v. the State of Virginia, in which a couple successfully filed suit against the statutes prohibiting interracial marriage. A lot of people wanted to get married and couldn't. In that regard, our marriage was part of the political effort to bring about justice and equality.

Q: How have you come to view the end of the marriage?

A: I firmly believe in the fluidity of relationships and the continuation of love, even though external circumstances might change. And it's a truism of life that everything changes. When I got married, it didn't erase the love and affection I felt for the person I fell in love with when I was six. We had started dating when I was fifteen. We separated when I left for college. Not because we'd stopped loving each other. Life took us to different places. It's in that context, the very stream of life, that I met my husband. And then we began our journey. I began to realize that our lovers are all teachers who arrive with important lessons that, if understood, can help us to grow.

Q: For people in the grips of heartache, that can be a difficult concept to embrace. What has enabled you to grasp and maintain such a philosophy?

A: Well, the culture promotes conformity. I have always been an outsider. The standard rules and acceptable forms of behavior have never applied to me. In that sense, I was raised wild. And why wouldn't I be? Why would I attempt to "conform" to a society that doesn't value my existence, that has done everything to wipe me out? I always knew that I'd have to construct an alternative reality. One that reflected my views. And I believe that love is fluid and that lovers come to teach.

Q: How did your husband respond to your fluidity in action?

A: He loved me. So, he made every possible effort to keep up. But it wasn't easy, because fluidity is not his nature. Because of his upbringing, he's a very steady man, which made for a good balance in our marriage. As for Mississippi, the original plan was that we'd be there only a couple of years. Then that dragged on to five, then seven. It was the natural consequence of his work as a civil-rights lawyer. It was understood that he couldn't just pick up and leave. Dismantling segregation in the South was not an abstract proposition. He was on the front lines helping real people in a real struggle that was formidable.

He was completely supportive when I was awarded a fellowship at Radcliffe and left Mississippi for a couple of years. His generosity of spirit made me love him all the more. We were both lonely. But it was the price we paid for the belief, that in our respective work, we were helping to improve conditions for people coming behind us. With that in mind, the pain of our separation was easier to bear.

Q: Were there special factors that finally pushed you to your limit?

A: I began to desire a wider world. I needed an existence more varied and hip than Mississippi provided. The people there were honest, earnest, sincere, real, and wonderful. But I needed to be in a community that had more of an edge. And I was worn out by the prison of race. I just got sick of race being at the center of everything. My spirit resisted being limited or defined exclusively on those terms.

Q: And your experiences in Boston and later in New York?

A: They taught me what I could live without. The academic life was too tight. I've been invited to teach at Harvard and to do this and that. But there's not a piece of me anywhere that wants to go back there. New York offered irrefutable evidence that my spirit does not respond well to tall buildings, bricks, concrete, or glass.

Q: Given the many genres in which you've worked, your creative spirit appears to emerge organically. How did the format for The Way Forward come about?

A: It took me a while to see the direction in which I was going, which is conscious fiction. Most of my work has been unconscious fiction, which I actually prefer. It's when you're writing out of a wellspring of emotion, intuition, and revealed information. Some of which may or may not be connected to reality. But you don't know that until much later. So, you are essentially creating something out of the dark.

I started thinking that it would be interesting to write fiction as a mature adult and to know exactly where the characters and themes came from. Flannery O'Connor always said that fiction is attached to real life by all four corners. And that's true. But as the writer, you don't necessarily see it. So, I wanted to write from a conscious place that enabled me to see, for example, that a certain experience was the foundation of a certain scene. Or that a particular character behaved in a certain way because of the person upon whom the character was based. Because fiction is always truer than truth. Yet it remains fiction, which is how you get to that deeper truth.

For instance, I've been able to see how particular images grew out of the spirits of my parents, although they're not actually depicted in the book. It was amusing to me--and as you know, I like to amuse myself-- to extend some of their characteristics into fiction, consciously, and to own it. That's why the book is shaped as it is.

The format also provided a way for me to revisit, consciously, a period in my life that was filled with so many emotions: love, anger, fear, struggle, celebration. The construction of the book enabled me to show how freedom emerges out of a teeming cauldron of emotions. I wanted to show the joys, pleasures, terrors, and discoveries of being on the road to liberation.

Q: What were some of the discoveries for you?

A: I discovered that you can start out with a love that seems complete. It appears to be exactly what you want and need. Then five years later, you're into something you could not have imagined from the vantage point of the first love. You're dating women. You're having lovers of every kind and persuasion. When my marriage was working, it was an absolute enchantment. But there were differences in fluidity.

For example, my husband was very dedicated to his work life. He could not spend much time, say, relaxing. Just sitting around having his head scratched. One day, with my next lover, I realized that I'd been fooling around all morning with his hair. And something about that simple, repetitive act gave us both enormous pleasure. I felt that such playful grooming of each other was something people of color shared with all of creation. That it was a natural state of being that allowed us to reach a certain bliss.

So, I learned that each lover is an opportunity for a reeducation and recommitment to what is real and authentic. The more authentic you can be in each relationship, the freer you become. Each lover moves you toward a greater emancipation. My love life has been like that. And I love it.

Q: What advice might you have for people who don't seem to be able to graduate and move on?

A: When you cling to what is no longer there, you suffer. I know from personal experience that clinging is painful.

Q: And what about the pain that often comes with letting go? With the relinquishing of what people believe to be "true love"?

A: I think it would be helpful for them to know that suffering is in the world and it is in us. The grief and sadness is natural. The crucial thing is acceptance. Nothing in life is eternal. With life being what it is, when one door closes another one opens. When one love leaves, another is on the way. Instead of collapsing in sorrow, I would suggest that they embrace the idea that life is never over. Perhaps in this form it is. But I could be on the way to becoming a seashell.

Maybe there will be a time in my life when there is no romance or intimacy with another person. If that happens, perhaps I'll get a lot of cats and dogs. But love is always a possibility. The key is to have it in yourself and for yourself. If you're loving, you will always have love. And the world is full of people who really deserve and want to be loved.

Q: How can people transcend preconceived or culturally enforced notions of who and what they should love?

A: For me, it has never been about color or any other external characteristics. I have never had to choose somebody just like me. The quality I look for and one that can help people move beyond their preconceived ideas is a sense of readiness. After the ending of a relationship, I inevitably come to a place of being ready to love again. For example, if I'm in a setting where there are really conscious people, I look around to see who is ready to go with me on the next journey, for however long it might be. As you know, most people are not ready. But there are many who are. And they present themselves to us in as many forms as there are in nature.

Q: From your vantage point, what does a ready person look like? A: Ready people are very helpful and reliable. They are present with you. They are very forthright and honest about whatever they might be struggling with in life. They don't tend to make demands. They offer themselves freely as available to assist, with no strings attached. And that is very attractive. It seems like such a small thing, but it's so important. Because it is in that spirit that people can provide the staff of support that we need on the path.

In terms of my own readiness, one day I'll realize that I am completely in love with everything, with just the sheer joy of living. And the universe reflects my readiness and joy. For example, after months of hearing no music, I'll begin to hear music everywhere. I'll start playing my own instruments or begin to put on certain music. Mozart, more than any other music, always lets me know that I'm healed from whatever struggle I've been in. When you hear Mozart coming from my house, know that I'm ready. Bring them on! (laughs).

Q: Why Mozart?

A: He is remarkable. His music has the ability to soothe, comfort, and heal. I wish I knew more about his mother. Because my sense is that a lot of his music comes from lullabies and folk songs from her side of the family. I can't remember a time since I was introduced to his music at Sarah Lawrence that Mozart didn't transport me into the joy of wholeness.

Tina Turner is another artist I listen to who reflects my readiness to love. She's said that she wants to return in another life as a spiritual leader. For me, she is already one. She takes us to places of such pain, degradation, humiliation and then sings us out of that despair. You know she's been down to the low places from which she sings and she owns those experiences. But her music is ultimately about triumph. So, listening to Mozart and Tina makes for an interesting blend. They both get us to the innate joy that resides within us, regardless of heartache. My message for people who have ended relationships and who might be comtemplating killing themselves is to just sit with it. Breathe in the pain. Let it almost kill you. And then put on some music that you really enjoy and dance. Then you'll be ready for the next education. Which will be your next love.

Q: Your career thus far has spanned thirty years. You've written nearly as many books. With The Color Purple (1982), you became the first black woman to win a Pulitzer prize in fiction. Has the willingness of the world to receive you been a surprise?

A: Well, everything has surprised me. But fundamentally, when people respond to me, they are actually responding to a version of themselves. That's what excites them. It's like looking at a really good racecar driver. Now, I will never be one. But there is a part of me that thoroughly appreciates the skill and daring of driving a race car. Of thinking, "I'm going to drive this car as far and as fast as I can, and see what happens. Maybe it will fly." I can identify with that feeling.

When people read my books, I think a similar feeling gets activated. They see what they could be, if only . . . I trust in the world's receptivity to my life and art because of my own response to people who came with gifts. On the outside these people may not have resembled me at all. But when I opened the gift, I was staring into a mirror. That said, I am surprised I have lived this long.

Q: Why? A: For starters, they were shooting people in Mississippi, quite regularly. It's not as if people didn't get killed. Then I had to deal with my own depression about that very fact and all the other difficulties of life. However, having lived this long, I feel such a gratitude and freedom. If I died this minute, my life has been more than I could have ever imagined. Evelyn C. White is editor of The Black Women's Health Book: Speaking for Ourselves.



"Places Walker in the company of Faulkner."
--The Nation, about The Color Purple

"Superb...a work to stand beside literature of any time and place."
--San Francisco Chronicle, about The Color Purple

"Just when you think Alice Walker has empathized her way as far as any writer can go, she goes further....Each essay is a gift."
--Gloria Steinem, about Anything We Love Can Be Saved

"[Alice Walker] is exceptionally brave: She takes on subjects at which most writers would flinch and quail, and probably fail. She shrinks from no moral or emotional complexity, and she writes consummately skillful short stories....In Walker's work nothing is ordinary....She is a marvelous writer."
--San Francisco Chronicle, about You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down

"A writer of staggering talent."
--New York Newsday
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. In the Jim Crow South, whites had daily, often intimate contact with blacks whom they trusted to work in their homes and care for their children. Given that context, what was their rationale for en-acting laws against interracial marriage?

2. What are some of the societal messages put forth about interracial relationships today?

3. How does the epistolary technique have an impact on the narrative in ÒTo My Young HusbandÓ?

4. What can be learned from the experiences of biracial children in an increasingly diverse society?

5. In ÒKindred SpiritsÓ the narrator makes reference to Cuban immi-grants in the United States. Discuss the Cuban revolution and its impact on American politics.

6. Discuss the relationship between Marcella, Angel, and Sally as depicted in ÒThere Was a River.Ó How would you handle such a scenario?

7. How is the subject of pornography addressed in ÒThe Brotherhood of the SavedÓ? Is it possible to limit access to pornography without breaching First Amendment rights?

8. If you brought your gift to Alice Walker, what would it be?

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