In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose

Part 1

Essays in In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens Part I:

  • "Saving the Life That Is Your Own: The Importance of Models in the Artist's Life"
  • "The Black Writer and the Southern Experience"
  • "But Yet and Still the Cotton Gin Kept on Working…"
  • "A Talk: Convocation 1972"
  • "Beyond the Peacock: The Reconstruction of Flannery O'Connor"
  • "The Divided Life of Jean Toomer"
  • "A Writer Because of, Not in Spite of, Her Children"
  • "Gifts of Power: The Writings of Rebecca Jackson"
  • "Zora Neale Hurston: A Cautionary Tale and a Partisan View"
  • "Looking for Zora"

Within these essays, She speaks about her search for early black writers such as Rebecca Jackson. She speaks of unsung heroines whom she has come into contact with who wish to tell their stories; for example Mrs. Winson Hudson. Hudson, the director of a Headstart center, wished to tell her story so that people would know "the agitation she caused in her community…was not for herself or for any one group but for everybody in the county".[4] However, of all the writers she introduces, Zora Neale Hurston becomes a focal part in this section of essays.

As Walker begins to research the practice of voodoo by rural Southern blacks in the thirties, she becomes aware of Hurston's works. Other than white anthropologists with racist views, Walker finds no one other than Hurston studied voodoo extensively. Hurston's book Mules and Men, a collection of folklore, sparks Walker's interest immediately because it provides all the stories that Southern blacks "had forgotten or of which they had grown ashamed…and showed how marvelous, and, indeed, priceless, they are".[5] In her essay, "Looking for Zora," Walker speaks about her trip to Hurston's hometown of Eatonville, FL to discover the life of her ancestral teacher. Despite Hurston's notoriety, when she passed in 1959, she was buried in an "unmarked grave in a segregated cemetery".[6] When Walker arrives in Florida, she purchases a tombstone that reads: "Zora Neale Hurston 'A Genius of the South' Novelist, Folklorist, Anthropologist 1901-1960". The line "a genius of the South" comes from a poem by Jean Toomer, whom Walker applauds for his "sensitivity to women and his ultimate condescension toward them".[7] Walker's exploration for the black writers of the past connects to her search for the kind of books that are underrepresented in American literature. She confirms this based on her referral to a comment by Toni Morrison: When Toni Morrison said she writes the kind of books she wants to read, she was acknowledging the fact that in a society in which 'accepted literature' is so often sexist and racist and otherwise irrelevant or offensive to so many lives, she must do the work of two. She said she must be her own model as well as the artist attending, creating, learning from, realizing the model, which is to say, herself.[8] Walker's search for 'models' is an attempt to "capture the voices" of writers who are often overlooked and/or forgotten such as Zora Neal Hurston.

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