Poem for the Day: November 2nd, 2021

Women by Alice Walker

They were women then 
My mama’s generation
Husky of voice—stout of
Step
With fists as well as
Hands
How they battered down
Doors
And ironed
Starched white
Shirts
How they led
Armies
Headragged generals
Across mined
Fields
Booby-trapped
Ditches
To discover books
Desks
A place for us
How they knew what we
Must know
Without knowing a page
Of it
Themselves.

© Alice Walker. Alice Walker is one of the preeminent American writers of her generation. She is a novelist, short story writer, essayist, poet, and activist whose work, while critically-acclaimed and highly-lauded by members of the literary intelligentsia, far surpasses any words which mere mortals may bestow upon it. For her 1982 novel The Color Purple, Walker won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Steven Spielberg-directed film adaptation was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and if you’re asking me, the fact that it didn’t win in any category is one of the biggest snubs in Oscars history.

I first read “Women” as a high school freshman, memorizing and reciting it for extra credit. Later on, it grew in significance for me when I read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and learned that if not for Alice Walker, Hurston’s great body of work would probably have languished in obscurity for all time. Walker’s acknowledgment of the labor of her Black women foremothers in making her own life possible is a major theme throughout her body of work, and nowhere is it clearer than in today’s poem.

Further Reading

“How Alice Walker Created Womanism — The Movement That Meets Black Women Where Feminism Misses The Mark” by Camille Rahatt (blavity.com, February 4th, 2020)

“In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” by Alice Walker (Ms. Magazine, 1975)

“Still Searching Out Zora Neale Hurston” by Kyle Bachan (Ms. Magazine, February 2nd, 2011)

“Womanist Theology” by Emilie M. Townes, written for and included in the Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America by Rosemary Skinner Keller and Rosemary Radford Ruether, eds.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

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