In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose Background

In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose Background

In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens is Alice Walker's 1983 collection of 36 essays composed from 1966 and 1982. At the start of the collection, Walker coins the term "womanist", which refers to a black feminist or other feminist of color. The text can therefore be counted among the foundational texts of "intersectional feminism", which explores the oppression of woman of color at the intersection of race, class, and sex.

The first part of the collection focuses on the work of often-overlooked African American woman writers. Walker discusses Zora Neale Hurston and her writings in several of the essays, but also references poet Jean Toomer and novelist Toni Morrison. Although Walker spent a significant amount of her adulthood in New York, she grew up in the South, so many of the essays feature Black female writers from the South and explore aspects of Black culture in the rural South.

The second part of the collection focuses on the Civil Rights Movement, in which Walker herself was heavily involved. Walker met Martin Luther King, Jr. while studying at Spelman College in Georgia in the early 1960s. Inspired by his work, she became a Civil Rights activist, took part in the 1963 March on Washington, and worked to get African Americans living in the South registered to vote. The section also includes an interview Walker conducted with Coretta Scott King, as well as a review of white American author Florence Engel Randall's The Almost Year. In the review, Walker praises Randall for writing "a book that is remarkably free of cant, stereotypes, déjà. vu and white liberal guilt‐ridden sermonizing, [and] seeks to find a way in which black abused and poor and elite privileged and rich can meet and exchange some warmth of themselves."

The third part of the collection focuses more generally on Black women overcoming their mistreatment and objectification to attain self-worth and self-respect. The essays address the additional layer of oppression facing women of color due not only to their sex, but to their race: Walker uses the work of Virginia Woolf and Phillis Wheatley to illustrate how white women's fears are often Black women's realities. Like in some of the earlier essays, Walker references numerous Black woman authors and musicians. Walker touches on issues such as colorism/shadeism within the Black community, mental health, etc.

Walker's work is strongly influenced by her religion/spirituality and interest in Transcendental Meditation. Although she has not applied a specific label to her sexual orientation, Walker had a romantic relationship with female musician Tracy Chapman in the mid-1990s, and her sexual openness might have also factored into the perspectives in the essays.

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