I’m going to introduce Rebecca Walker before her keynote address at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference in February. Here is a brief interview I conducted with her that was published in Atención San Miguel.
What’s your writing schedule like? Do you have a favorite place to write or any creativity-inducing rituals?
Since having my son, I have had to throw a lot of my ideas about where and when to write out the window. I now write anywhere I can charge my laptop: the bed, the sofa, a chair in the backyard. I also write in hotels more lately, and try to build a few extra days for writing into my lecture schedule. My other trick is to wait until I really know what I want and need to say. Then I add a few months onto that until I can’t contain it anymore. The urgency makes me write faster.
You’ve been extremely brave about delving into and revealing your complex personal truths in your memoirs and you’ve paid dearly for doing so. You wrote in Baby Love that your mother was so furious about what you wrote in Black, White, and Jewish that she disinherited you. Was it worth it? Is it worth it?
Well, it certainly wasn’t the best financial decision I’ve ever made! Because my mother is such a powerhouse in the industry (think Oprah and many, many others) and people take sides, the estrangement has had a serious impact on my career and the resources available to me.
Access aside, as millions of people know, my mother is a tremendous human being and I love and respect her deeply. The rub is that, like her, I’m a writer: my life is my material. It’s an issue all writers deal with: Is it possible to tell my story without hurting others? What happens to the world of letters if writers only write what is acceptable? What’s the point of writing if you can’t be truthful?
Some of my favorite memoirists, women like Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, Audre Lorde, Diane DiPrima, Marguerite Duras, Susanna Kaysen, bell hooks, Lucy Grealy, asha bandele and others, didn’t write what made everyone comfortable. They wrote what they needed to write, and the truth of their expression stands the test of time. I hope my work does the same.
So I guess that’s a yes. It is worth it. And the cost is tremendous. I often tell writers in my workshops that their biggest fear about telling their story can come true: you can lose the people you love the most. But, as many of those same writers like to tell me, the opposite is also true: you can become closer to the people you love; telling your story can be a cathartic place of healing. I thought that would be true for me and my family. So far, not so much. But there is still time. I’ll never close the door.
You’ve edited three non-fiction anthologies and contributed to at least twenty others. Why do you think anthologies as a genre became so popular? What’s your new anthology about? I hear there’s a local author in it.
The first anthology I read was This Bridge Called My Back by the late Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldua, and my all-time favorite is We Are the Stories We Tell. The genre endures because it fulfills a human longing to see the world from different points of view, all at once. And then there is the fact that collections are like parties for introverts: you meet the most fascinating people without having to leave the house. It’s the original virtual community.
My new anthology is about new family configurations. It’s called Walk This Way: Introducing the New American Family. It’s about all the ways people are living these days: from birthing at home without a midwife, living polyamorously, and inviting the nanny to be a full-fledged family member, to co-housing, transracial adoption, and intercultural ex-pat life. San Miguel de Allende resident Susan McKinney de Ortega is covering that last topic, and I’m thrilled to include her essay about moving to San Miguel, falling in love and starting what to some may seem like a non-traditional family.
Have you been in San Miguel de Allende before? If so, what is the first experience you look forward to having upon each return?
This will be my first trip to San Miguel de Allende, though my mother owns a house in Mexico and I’ve spent over two decades going back and forth: the country is in my blood. I’m looking forward to speaking Spanish, a language I love, and eating carne asada with beans and rice. I’m looking forward to the light, the warmth of the people, and the focus on family rather than consumerism. I’m looking forward to architectural beauty and diversity. And of course, I am looking forward to meeting some wonderful writers.