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    Finding the good in heartbreak


    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000

    Alice Walker's heart is broken, and she hopes yours is, too. Not because she's malicious -- in fact, her voice conveys a kindness and a sense of peace and calm obtained by only the most thoughtful and sagacious.

    "You should hope that your heart does break, because it gets open and it gets bigger," Walker said in a recent telephone interview from Seattle where she was on a tour promoting her latest novel, The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart. "There's no way to avoid having a broken heart. We shouldn't even try because it's built into being human."

    On Nov. 10 Walker will be signing copies of her book at the Midwives' Alliance of North America Annual Conference on Clearwater Beach, where she will be the keynote speaker.

    In her new book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple and By the Light of My Father's Smile reveals the sources of her heartbreak with a tone of fondness and affection. "Life is just magical in its way," she says. "It has its pain, but it also has so much love and joy."

    The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart is "mostly fiction, but with a definite thread of having come out of a singular life," Walker writes in the book's preface. She shares her real life, her relationships -- with her parents, with her lovers -- like never before. "It was a great feeling of freedom," she says. "I like to be very open with myself and . . . very free with my speaking and my thinking and my behavior, so this is a part of that.

    "There is also the hope that as a person who's becoming an elder, younger people can take strength from knowing that you can actually live as yourself and survive."

    In the opening chapter, "To My Young Husband," Walker explores the marriage of her youth, to a Jewish civil rights lawyer in the racially volatile South. The two, once so in love, lost touch completely after their divorce, and reconvene years later in a therapist's office with their child to figure out what went wrong.

    Her stories -- each poignant and written in Walker's beautiful, simple trademark style -- remind us how we connect with people, and how important those connections are; the sorrow reaped by losing touch. They gently nudge us to remember and to cherish moments spent with the people we love, or once loved. Walker's empathy for her race -- the human race -- is staggering.

    "I learned so much from my relationships. I still love them all and I think they all still love me," Walker said. "If you begin to see that it's a loss . . . then you can create art that helps people to see that it doesn't have to be that way."

    Walker sees her book tours as a way to drive that message home in a very real way. Each and every stop is a fundraiser for a different cause. "It's gratifying because it's not just promoting a book, it's an opportunity to promote good causes," she says.

    In Seattle she was doing a benefit for the Books to Prisoners project.

    "I'm very aware that the trend is to put our children in prison rather than educate them," Walker says. "They're trying to keep books away from them and they give them very little space to hold their books. They have a five-inch by 14-inch space to put their books and writing materials. Now who can do that?"

    Walker's stop in Clearwater Beach will help to support the midwifery movement. "I think midwifery is a movement that should encompass the entire planet," says Walker. "I think that people should have the option of having their children at home."

    When a woman gives birth at home with a midwife, Walker says, she calls all the shots. "Otherwise, the way it happens in hospitals, the doctor gives birth. He gets all the credit."

    The womanist writer became interested in the movement because she had always wanted to watch a baby being born. "One of the midwives who's going to be at this conference invited me to hold the light while she helped bring in this little Native American boy, who is now my godson. It was the most beautiful birth I have ever imagined. It made me want to be born again."

    For Walker, none of these appearances is about charity. "I don't like to call them charities. I feel like I'm working for us, as a human race," she says. "They're all really a part of what we need to be doing."

    "We are a frightened, a brokenhearted nation," she writes in the concluding chapter of The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart.

    Is there any hope that that will someday change? "We can bear it, that's the point," she says from her Seattle hotel room. "We can reach out to others who are also brokenhearted and who are waiting for someone else to make a move."

    - Samantha Puckett is a Times staff writer.

    In the area

    Alice Walker will give the keynote address at the Midwives' Alliance of North America Annual Conference, "Bringing Midwifery into the Light," at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Hilton Resort on Clearwater Beach. Following the address, she will sign copies of her new book, The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart. A $10 donation is expected at the door; call the Florida School of Traditional Midwifery at (352) 338-0766 for more information.

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