73 pages 2 hours read

Alice Walker

In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens

Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Adult | Published in 1983

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Summary and Study Guide


In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens is a collection of essays, speeches, and letters by Alice Walker. The collection was published in 1983. Walker is also a novelist and a poet. Her most famous novel, The Color Purple, was published in 1982 and won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1983. The novel was adapted into a movie as well as a musical. These essays are collected from different books and magazines and span a period of years ranging from 1967 to 1983. 


The essays are organized into four different sections, and together these sections provide a sense of Walker’s complex personality and varied engagements in the world. The first section of essays deals primarily with Walker’s influences and concerns as a fiction writer. The essays cover writers who have influenced her, such as Flannery O’Connor and Zora Neale Hurston, and discuss the complex struggles involved in finding influences and establishing an identity as an African-American writer, such as in “The Black Writer and the Southern Experience.”

The second section of essays is more focused on Walker’s politics. A number of essays in this section deal with Martin Luther King, Jr., an important figure in Walker’s life—as in, “Choice: a Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.” and “Choosing to Stay at Home: Ten Years after the March on Washington”—as well as with Walker’s interest in socialism, such as “Good Morning, Revolution: Uncollected Writings of Social Protest” and “My Father’s Country is the Poor.”

The third section of the book covers some of the political strife within Walker’s African-American community—as in “Breaking Chains and Encouraging Life” and “If the Present Looks Like the Past, What Does the Future Look Like?”—while the final section of the book can be seen as an overview of the previous three sections. The latter essays vary widely in topic and tone, from the intimate and personal—“When the Other Dancer is the Self”—to the global and political, as in “Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do.”

The sections in this book deal broadly with different topics, yet there is also a linkage between these topics. Discussing her influences as a fiction writer, as she does in her essays on O’Connor and Hurston, inevitably leads Walker to the topic of social injustice and particularly racism in the American South. Likewise, her essay “Only Justice Can Stop a Curse” invokes Hurston, although its topic is the anti-nuclear movement. In dealing with the problem of “colorism” within the African-American community, the essay “If the Present Looks Like the Past, What Does the Future Look Like?”analyzes three 19th-century novels by African-American writers. In the final essay, “One Child of One’s Own: A Meaningful Digression within the Work(s),” Walker writes of her admiration for her college professor Muriel Rukeyser and her philosophy of “no separation.” This collection of essays can be seen to embody Rukeyser’s philosophy, for no essay here completely stays within the boundaries of its topic. 

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