Walker's 'The Color Purple' Opens on Broadway
ED GORDON, host:
Steven Spielberg's 1985 film "The Color Purple" was adapted from Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Whoopi Goldberg played the main character, Celie, a black Southern woman who narrates her own struggles with sexual abuse and self-identity. The movie's all-star cast also included Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.
(Soundbite of "The Color Purple")
Mr. DANNY GLOVER: You're ugly, you're skinny, you're shaped funny. Nobody crazy enough to marry you, so whatcha gonna do?
Unidentified Woman #1: Celie, no!
Ms. WHOOPI GOLDBERG: (As Celie) I told you, until you do right by me, everything you think about is gonna crumble.
Unidentified Woman #2: Don't do it, Miss Celie.
Ms. GOLDBERG: (As Celie) Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail!
GORDON: Twenty years after the movie's release, Walker's novel has again been adopted, this time for the stage. "The Color Purple" is now a Broadway musical. It's one more honor for the book's author. In spite of Alice Walker's illustrious career in sales, over 10 million books worldwide, writing wasn't her first career choice.
Ms. ALICE WALKER (Author, "The Color Purple"): I wanted to be a scientist, and then I wanted to be a pianist, and then I wanted to be a painter, and all of those things were very expensive, and we didn't have any money. I became a writer, in a way, because, you know, I'm an artist at heart, and I had to do something.
GORDON: Were there times that you regretted the idea that you could not go into science or some of the other fields that you had thought about initially?
Ms. WALKER: Well, I think I would have been really good in science because I think I could have helped steer science in a direction that would be more helpful to human beings. But I love being a poet, and I think that the poetry is the foundation of all of my creative work, actually. I've been keeping journals since I was a child, really, and, in fact, I'm transcribing 40 years of journals, and it's very interesting, because my daughter used to say to me, `Mom, you have no memory whatsoever,' and I realized that part of the reason I seem to lack memory is that I have written so much down, and so as I encounter it, it's as if I'm experiencing all of these things for the first time, and it's quite, sometimes, mind-blowing.
GORDON: Talk to me a bit about the idea of handing over your work, like "The Color Purple," readying it for a different medium. Obviously, you had some direction and say in the movie, but is that a difficult thing to do?
Ms. WALKER: Yeah, it is, because I am beholden to ancestors, I mean, you know, literally, my parents and my grandparents, and I know to some people, this sounds very strange, but it's very ordinary to me that I have to really be very conscientious about how I handle work, which comes through me, so I don't say `yes' all that lightly; although with me, what happens is if I really feel that the person who is petitioning me is good-hearted, sincere and has the ability to do something, I will risk a collaboration.
GORDON: Do you have a favorite book of yours?
Ms. WALKER: "The Temple of My Familiar" is...
Ms. WALKER: ...my favorite book of mine. Well, there is a Lakota holy man--there was a Sioux Lakota holy man named Black Elk. This holy man said many great, wonderful things, and one of them was that in everybody's life--everybody's life--there is a moment when you are the recipient of a great vision, and the way you pay homage to having given--been given this vision is you manifest it in the world, so after I wrote "The Color Purple," I took myself to the country and I was pretty much there for two years writing this great vision, and I love it. You know, I love it. I don't care if anybody--ain't nobody else may love it anywhere else on Earth, but I do, because I understand what Black Elk was saying, that at that moment, I have received something that felt very much like a gift to me.
GORDON: Who do you write for today? Is there a particular truth that you hold true to when you write?
Ms. WALKER: I hold true to the joy, the wonder of the whole thing. I just--you know, I just am just amazed constantly. That is my constant state of being, like, wow, you know. And so my work is really just expressing that all the time. You know, it's, like, thank you, whoo. So I write out of that, and then I send that out there to people.
GORDON: I hear that you will, in fact, be at the premiere. Is there a hope, a want for this play from you?
Ms. WALKER: Absolutely. I will be showing up with 45 members of my family, some of them by blood--a lot of them by blood, and some of them by heart and spirit. And it's a way of having--as one of my nephews said to me, he said, `You know, Auntie, we're all coming to New York and it's going to be like a family reunion.' And I thought, yes, it's going to be exactly that, because we will be with ancestors who will be like the characters, you know, the actors on the stage, and we will be actually celebrating that we have survived horrible and flagrant mistreatment, brutality, you know, everything you can imagine and name, and we are meeting, as my nephew says, `in New York and it's going to be like a family reunion.'
GORDON: That was author Alice Walker. The musical version of her classic novel "The Color Purple" opens tonight on Broadway.
Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.
I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.