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Air Date: 3/5/21

The Root Presents: It’s Lit!

Ep. 24 - Searching For The Color Purple, With Salamishah Tillet
Danielle ​Welcome to It's Lit! Where all things literary live at The Root. I'm Danielle Belton,
The Root's editor in chief here with the managing editor of The Glow up, Maiysha Kai.

Maiysha ​Hello, everybody.

Danielle ​Today, we're speaking with an incredibly accomplished guest, Salamishah Tillet.
In addition to being an author, Salamishah is also a professor at Rutgers University, a
contributing critic at large for The New York Times and is the co-founder of A Long Walk
Home, which is an organization focused on empowering young artists and activists to end
violence against all girls and women. Salamishah joined us recently to talk about her latest
book, In Search of the Color Purple, which is a deep dive into the history of Alice Walker's
famous novel, as well as an examination of the cultural response to the book and the
movie and the musical that followed.

Maiysha ​Yeah, you know this. I cannot tell you. I was so looking forward to this episode
and this conversation because, you know, first of all, is it just me or does it seem like
everybody who comes on It's Lit says that The Color Purple is like their favorite book. I
mean, like—.

Danielle ​It's definitely in the top 10, probably one or two at this point.

Maiysha ​Right? Like, it's like one of the top books that people cite when we ask them for
their favorite book. And Salamishah, as you just noted, has done such tremendous work in
a space that I think The Color Purple created for us to start having those discussions in the
Black community. And we have a long way to go with those discussions. And she's helping
that she and her sister Scheherazade are helping that with A Long Walk Home. But I do
think that the way that it dovetails here and Scheherazade was also part of the making in
this book. The way it dovetails here is so beautiful. And I think my affinity for Alice Walker
is well documented on the podcast, so I'll just leave it there.

Danielle ​Definitely. Definitely. But it's like what was interesting for me was rehashing all
the controversy that surrounded the book and subsequently the film when they both came
out, because so much of that, I feel like has been lost to time. Like the book has just
become so much part of like Black culture and our vernacular and popular culture.

Maiysha ​Absolutely.

Danielle ​And the way we speak about things.

Maiysha ​It's you're right. We can all cite, like Sophia's speech or like, you know, have
these little one-liners. But we do forget very much about that controversy. And to your
point, while the controversy itself has been lost to time, the actual dynamics have not. And
we've seen that again and again. You know, in these instances when Black women want
to talk about, you know, sexual violence in our communities, how they get shut down, how
they become invisible, you know, again. So I think there's an interesting conversation there
as well. And I was really excited to have that with Salamishah.

Danielle ​Definitely. Well, I can't wait to share this conversation with our listeners, so I think
we should dive right in.

Air Date: 3/5/21

Maiysha ​Let's do it.

Danielle ​Salamishah, welcome to It's Lit!

Salamishah Tillet ​Hi. I'm so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

Danielle ​Oh, we're excited to have you because we have long admired your work. And
your latest book is truly a gift. But first, since It's Lit is a podcast about Black books and
writers, we like to start every episode by asking our guests to name at least one
book...And you can't name the one that you wrote about, but name at least one book that
is life-affirming, life-altering, life changing, mind-blowing that—what was that book for you
other than the book that you obviously chose to write about?

Salamishah Tillet ​I mean, it's another cliche, but it's true. Toni Morrison's Beloved and I
think you are able to see my bookshelf. And so this is a first edition of her Beloved. And
then I have a first edition of The Color Purple right here as well. So but Morrison's
Beloved...My first book is called Sites of Slavery. And I looked at how contemporary
African-American writers and artists remembered slavery in their works and Beloved was
like the shadow text for me. But it also was a book that I read in undergrad. And I think I
was really curious about her books, about how slavery is the thing that haunts Black
people. And I really became interested in how Black people try to confront that haunting in
their works. And so there's a relationship, I think, between, you know, Beloved and The
Color Purple for me, quite...It's very easy and seamless in some ways for me because
they're haunting and healing. And I was a sexual assault survivor, but at the time I was
reading Beloved, I also was in therapy and dealing with flashbacks and nightmares in a
real visceral way. So Beloved, is a really important—for many people Beloved, you know,
but for me, it's really special as well.

Danielle ​It makes a lot of sense. I think you hit the nail on the head. It's a natural fit, the
fact that you're attracted to both The Color Purple and Beloved, that makes a lot of sense.
But speaking of The Color Purple, since we launched this podcast and we've asked this
question, you know, to every author and journalist we've had on, about what book
changed their lives. And without a doubt, The Color Purple has been the most common
answer, whether we're—.

Salamishah Tillet ​Are you serious?

Danielle ​Yes. Followed by Beloved.

Salamishah Tillet ​Oh.

Danielle ​And The Bluest Eye.

Maiysha ​And The Bluest Eye. Followed by. But it's always The Color Purple first.

Danielle ​It's always The Color Purple, always.

Salamishah Tillet ​That's so fascinating. I didn't know that. That's so exciting to hear.

Danielle ​It's like whether we're speaking to Brit Bennett or Michelle Buteau, Ijeoma Oluo,
or Alice Randall, who recently told us she reads it annually.

Air Date: 3/5/21

Maiysha ​Mm hmm.

Salamishah Tillet ​Oh!

Danielle ​This is a book—.

Salamishah Tillet ​This is—.

Danielle ​Yes, it's THE book.

Salamishah Tillet ​Wow. So good to know.

Danielle ​This is a book that not only captured the American imagination, but is so deeply
ingrained in the lives of generations of Black women in films, which is why your book, In
Search of the Color Purple: The Story of an American Masterpiece, is so welcome. How
did this journey begin for you and how did you approach Walker to gain this level of

Salamishah Tillet ​Yeah, thank you. Well, the journey was I always feel like I wish I had
some really fancy story, but it was really quite practical. I'm currently working on a book on
Nina Simone, and I was having quite a difficult time figuring out the language of that
project because, as I said, my first book was Sites of Slavery. And it's a really, it's an
academic book. And transitioning to this kind of writing was prompted by my desire to write
a book on Nina Simone and have lots of people be able to read it to make it accessible.
And as I'm going through this process, and it took two years to finish the proposal on Nina
Simone, Abrams Books, which my book is published with Abram's, there was a new editor
there named Jamison Stoltz, and he was starting a new series called Writers on Writers.
Right. And so in that series like 1984, these big classics and The Color Purple was one of
the things on his list. And so he pitched it to my editor who is Tanya McKinnon, who you
probably have many of her clients.

Maiysha ​Yeah.

Salamishah Tillet ​Yeah.

Maiysha ​She may or may not be our agent too.

Salamishah Tillet ​Yeah. Oh yes, she is! I know she is. Oh I forgot. Yes. So yes so she—.

Maiysha ​Shout out to Tanya McKinnon and associates.

Salamishah Tillet ​I forgot that. I forgot that. So Tanya said I have a writer for The Color
Purple and then she asked me about it and it was so quick. I was like "Oh yeah, I know
that book. I know who I was when I first read that book. I know the story of the book. I
taught the book..." And so I was able to write the proposal in a month. So you have two
years writing a Nina Simone proposal and a month writing The Color Purple proposal. And
so that's kind of how it came to me. And what's been beautiful is being able to write about
a writer who has such a rich archive through osmosis. I was able to become a better writer
myself. Right. Just reading her work and reading her writing on her tale, or her journey in
The Color Purple, through The Color Purple, after the Color Purple, really helped shaped

Air Date: 3/5/21
my relationship to language differently. So that was the first question. How I got to the
project. The second question was...

Maiysha ​Well, how did you gain this kind of access to her?

Danielle ​Yes.

Salamishah Tillet ​Oh, the access. Oh yes. So, well, we're all journalists...

Maiysha ​'Cause Alice Walker isn't just having audiences with everybody now.

Salamishah Tillet ​I know, but talking to journalists, you'll be able to appreciate the story.
So I'm close to Gloria Steinem, who writes the foreword for the book and Beverly
Guy-Sheftall who writes the afterword. And so they primed and prepped her for me to
interview her. And then the other person I would like to say is Valerie Boyd, who I got to
know through this process. So Valerie Boyd is well known for writing the magnificent Zora
Neale Hurston biography, but she's also currently working on Alice Walker's journal. So
Alice Walker has been keeping a journal from age 18 to 75. And so Valerie is the editor of
these journals, and they're going to come out. So the three of them had been, you know,
warming Alice up to me and all of this stuff. And I was like, I don't know if I can get this
interview that way. So Alice Walker had a book of poetry that was coming out two years
ago. Right. And I was like, I think she'll probably need press for this poetry collection that's
coming out. And so that's how I pitched it. I actually did an interview with her for New York
Review of Books. And so I did a two-day interview with her. I traveled with my sister to her
hometown in northern California called Philo, which is a very, very, very small town of
people. And she lives, as I say, in the book, on 40 acres of land. She lives at the top of a
hill-ish mountain kind of thing. So that's how I got access to her. One, it was through these
relationships with these feminists, but also through just my own diligence and wanting to
get this interview. Now, the interview changes the course of the book, though, of course, if
you have an interview with an author who's alive, whose work means so much to you
versus me suspecting how she felt or trying to do the archival research, it changes. So it
was...And then Oprah then, it's almost like you have to get permission from Alice and then
you get access to everyone else. So that's also quite an interesting process unto itself.

Maiysha ​I mean, because. Yes, I mean, the Oprah aspect for those who haven't read the
book yet. Right. Like we're talking you interviewed Alice, you've got Gloria Steinem's voice
in here. You got Oprah's voice in here. I mean, it's an event, you know?

Salamishah Tillet ​Which The Color Purple wa—

Danielle ​Yeah.

Salamishah Tillet ​The book was right? When it came out, so.

Danielle ​Yeah, it's a fascinating journey. Just hearing your story, just as a writer, as a
journalist, you know the lengths that you have to go through to get to your subject. But
then all the doors that open, once you finally get there, like, that's just, you know, it's just
an amazing story. So, yeah, this book is really a deep dive into not only the creation of a
Pulitzer Prize-winning book, an Oscar nominated film and a Tony Award-winning
Broadway musical. But the socio-cultural landscape that framed both. Understanding that
you're an academic and an activist as well as an author, how do you hope that the greater

Air Date: 3/5/21
context of In Search of The Color Purple will deepen our understanding of what Walker

Salamishah Tillet ​Well, I guess one of the hopes I have for this book, you know, we're in
this moment in which Black women are being celebrated and recognized in unprecedented
ways. And so we are all part of ushering in that moment. We're also, in some ways, able to
be seen differently because of this moment. But these moments don't come by chance
and they don't come because people haven't worked really hard to create them. So on one
hand, I would like people to understand the 80s is the probably the most similar to our
period right there, there's a blossoming of Black women culturally and artistically, and
there was a recognition of their efforts. I talked about Toni Morrison, but we could also
include Audre Lorde in that, as well as Ntozake Shange and of course, Alice Walker and
many others. And so I want us to understand our present. We are the children. We are the
daughters of those authors and those activists and artists from the 1980s who were really
having to explore what it means to be a Black woman in literature, on stage. And so that's
part of it. But also, I think we're still wrestling with lots of the questions and concerns that
this novel presented to them and then presents to us. We're at a moment of Me, Too, and
Black Lives Matter. Right? And so what The Color Purple can teach us in this moment is,
one, what does it mean to recognize the voices and experiences of Black girls and Black
women who've experienced sexual assault? Two, how Black women work in community
with others, and how their healing also creates the possibility for others to heal? And then
three, I guess, also would be a deep recognition of the Black south and Georgia in
particular, and the ways in which Alice Walker really was trying to give us an
understanding of how culturally rich her life was, even as she grew up in segregation. And
so part of the excitement for me with this book was actually being able to spend a lot of
time in Georgia and Atlanta in the archives at Emory, but in Eatonton, which is an hour
away from Atlanta. And just understand the beauty that Alice Walker grew up in in terms of
the landscape, despite the poverty, the violence and the racial brutality that she and her
family had to navigate. So there's a lot of things, I guess, that I think this book can teach
us today. But mostly I'm just excited to think about a Black woman as an author of an
American masterpiece. And that's still something that we, with the exception of Toni
Morrison, we rarely look at Black women that way still.

Maiysha ​You know, I love that you brought up all those other names who, you know,
again, so deeply influential for Black women writers to have our own kind of, you know,
pantheon like this is our canon and this is our pantheon, you know, and they were their
own sisterhood, I mean, their own self-declared sisterhood of writers. And I also love that
you talk about Eatonton, because one of the things you do in In Search of The Color
Purple is that you open before we even get into all this incredible research you open with
Walker's own family tree. And I love this because, you know, you correlate, you know, for
people who aren't familiar or who maybe forgot. You correlate her mother, her father, her
grandparents to all these much-beloved characters in this seminal work. You know, and it's
really effective because, you know, we're all, you know, as writers, you know, we're
instructed to write what we know. But I think a lot of people seem to forget that, like Walker
didn't entirely construct The Color Purple out of thin air like this was very much—I mean,
the story was original, but it was inspired by people in her life. You know, Celie was her
step-grandmother. Sophia was her mother. You know, she was an actual person named
Shug. And what it drove home for me is that, you know, when we think about the pushback
that she got at the time, how resistant the world was and still is to allowing Black people
and particularly Black women to honestly share our lived experiences. Right, let alone from
a feminist viewpoint, as an educator and a writer, like, how do you reckon with this
persistent censorship of the Black female experience, especially as it relates to trauma?

Air Date: 3/5/21

Salamishah Tillet ​Hmm, yeah, thank you for that question. So—and you really explained
why I included the family tree one, because actually when I went into the project, I kind of
knew that Albert, Mr., was based on her grandfather. But I actually didn't know that Nettie
was an actual name of her grandmother and Shug was an actual person, I didn't know any
of that. And so I thought it was really important to show how Walker's relationship to her
family. Both she's trying to fill in their story, right, like with the character Celie, who's based
on her, her grandmother, Rachel, that she really wanted to give Rachel an ending that she
didn't have in real life. And that was one of the most poignant moments of my interview
with Alice Walker, who had claimed that she had nothing else to say about The Color
Purple. And then she starts crying like it was really moving to see her crying about
Rachel's life. Right. And I was—and then you're just like you're just in a kind of a silence as
you watch how important this figure of Celie has become for so many people, but how
intimate she was for Alice and the gift that Alice was trying to give her and therefore give
us. So I think when you're talking about the controversy, this is also why I wanted to share
this work with people, because we forget, like, well, we weren't really part—You know,
we're not the generation at all that were part of the people picketing and protesting against
The Color Purple, the movie. We weren't the ones who were trying to get the book
banned. But we are in some ways aware of the ways in which Black women's stories,
particularly when the assailant is an African-American man, like we're the ones who have
watched Dream Hampton's experience with Surviving R. Kelly. Right. So we see that there
is a significant pushback and fallout. But we're also able to be in a moment where Tarana
Burke is recognized as the founder of Me Too. So that's what I mean. There were the
children of The Color Purple because we're in this really unique moment in which the
conversations are still hard to have, but they're not nearly as hard as they were in the
1980s. We're not being called traitors, even though people may still be invoking narratives
of lynching, right, when they're being said that they're sexually assaulting Black women.
So it's a new moment. But I want students and I want readers to really understand these
battles that again when I was saying that, we're in this moment where Black girls and
Black women are being recognized on one hand. We're also in a moment where
nine-year-old Black girls are being handcuffed and pushed down to the ground. We're at a
dire moment. Still, some of us are being recognized and the vast majority of us are not
being, we're still suffering in silence. So The Color Purple gives us a way to understand
both of those things at once. The celebration of the novel being highly lauded and the
pushback against the novel at the time, and really the movie show how difficult it is to
break these silences as a community.

Maiysha ​Yeah, well, you know, it's so interesting because, you know, we are the three of
us around the same age. And like many of our generation, like my first introduction to The
Color Purple was the movie, you know.

Salamishah Tillet ​Yeah, mine too.

Danielle ​Same.

Maiysha ​I think that's true for a lot of people, you know. And I remember it really clearly
because my mom was a journalist and she sat me down beforehand because I was only
like nine or 10 when I saw it. But she sat me down to have a conversation about what I
was going to see. She'd already seen it. And she thought it was so important for me to see
this film. But I read the book soon after and just like, cracked my whole world open. And I
was like, totally devoted to Alice Walker and fun fact. I've talked about this before on the

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podcast, but I even chose my alma mater, I went to Sarah Lawrence because, partly

Salamishah Tillet ​Did you really?

Maiysha ​I did. Partly because Alice Walker had gone there. And I wanted to be a writer,
too, you know.

Salamishah Tillet ​Yeah. It's a good writer's school. It's a good place to go.

Maiysha ​It's a great writer's school. So it was between Sarah Lawrence and Spelman and
I loved New York. So there you go. Don't tell Dr. Guy-Sheftall that. But...

Salamishah Tillet ​She'd probably like, "I understand,".

Maiysha ​You know, well, I'll discuss it with her, you know, but obviously I'm not alone
because you note here that, you know, and you just noted as well that, you know, she
birthed this generation of feminist writers and you say for whom reading Celie's letters was
a fundamental right of passage. But I worry sometimes in that canonizing of Alice Walker,
I'm guilty of this, that we've kind of flattened our understanding of her. And so how did this
excavation of her work and her life, as well as her insecurities, which you also share, and
kind of her foibles, her missteps, how did that help you hone in on her humanity?

Salamishah Tillet ​Oh, thank you for that question. Going through this process, we read
the book and we kind of know about the controversy and that's the beginning and end of
our relationship to it. Right, as readers or as viewers of the film. But to know that when the
film is being done that Alice Walker feels like she's making a big personal sacrifice on one
hand. Right, that she's not spending time with her partner, Robert Allen, that she's not with
her daughter Rebecca or Rebecca's on the set, but she's not devoted to them the way that
she promised that she would be after the book came out. So she feels a lot of guilt there.
But then also just understanding that her relationship with Robert was falling apart as this
movie is being made. Right. And that her own exploration of sexuality between Shug and
Celie on screen or in the novel are also part of her own struggle. She doesn't, she's
struggling to understand her sexuality and whether or not her relationship can sustain that,
like can, as she's exploring her sexuality, she's trying to understand who she is. She's in a
relationship in which Robert Allen ends up cheating on her. He discloses to her. And so
there's a huge kind of internal struggle that she's having at the same time that she has
Lyme disease and her mother's dying. Right. So all of that's going on as this movie is
being made. So when that when the movie comes out and it's such a backlash, you
already have a highly vulnerable woman who then is being subject to misreadings and
misunderstandings of her work. So I thought that was just really interesting. As for me, as
a writer, I wanted to understand what she was experiencing and feeling, because now
when we think of The Color Purple, it's, and the musical, like it's hard for us to to think that,
you know, what was the controversy or why didn't people like it? Because when we think
about it in the way that most Black people think about it right now, they just love the movie.
And they quote Celie's lines or they quote Sophia's lines. You know, Kendrick Lamar, his
song, when he's like, "all my life, I had to fight..." For Sophia's lines from The Color Purple
to get to what was like one of the most important songs of the Black Lives Matter
movement. I mean, that's a huge trajectory that you wouldn't have suspected when people
were trying to boycott the movie. Right. So I wanted to give us a sense of the difficulty it
takes for truth to travel through time. And by the time we get it, we just kind of are

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beneficiaries of it. But it doesn't happen easily and it doesn't happen without people being
sacrificed along the way.

Danielle ​I want to dig into though, more about just the controversy that surrounded the
book and the film—.

Salamishah Tillet ​Yes.

Danielle ​—At the time, because I remember a lot of it. I was a kid. I didn't understand what
the big deal was. I'm a child. So I didn't get, like, the big political ramifications of
everything. You know, you just hear like, oh, this is exposing some kind of terrible trauma.
It's bad about, you know, it's negative towards Black men. And I remember when I saw the
film, like, my mind was just blown like everyone else. So, you know, now The Color Purple
lives in the Black artistic pantheon as a classic. And as you mentioned, you know,
Kendrick Lamar is quoting it in his songs. And, you know, we've forgotten all these
controversies surrounding it. So, so many Black people didn't want it to exist because it
dared to explore the brutality we sometimes visit upon each other. And you refer to the
haunting of Black people by the trauma of slavery. But speaking about her work in general,
Walker also talks about how difficult it is to, quote, look at, name, and speak up about
violence in the Black community. And as editor in chief of The Root, that obviously
resonated with me. So often, we're encouraged to only tell one version of our experience,
despite the fact that most violence, domestic or communal, occurs intra racially, no matter
the racial group. How do you interpret this persistent fear of, quote, airing out our dirty
laundry and how do you feel it inhibits us?

Salamishah Tillet ​Yeah, I mean, that was basically, you got to the root of the controversy
in the nineteen eighties in which people like Louis Farrakhan did a whole segment, a
whole not segment, but I watched it online, but he did a whole lecture on why The Color
Purple must go, right. And what's fascinating about Farrakhan's speech is that he
concedes incest. It was the relationship between Shug and Celie that he admonished and
also Steven Spielberg as someone who was making the film. So these conversations were
being, you know, happening amongst Black people. They've always been happening
amongst Black people. But I think The Color Purple was so unabashed in its love of Celie
and the centering of the victim of sexual assault. So. If you look at Ralph Ellison's, Invisible
Man, you also have an incest scene there, but True Blood is a character who's kind of a
folk hero. And then The Bluest Eye, a book that I read alongside The Color Purple. We still
have a...It's still from the father, from Cholly's point of view. It's not from Pecola's point of
view. So Walker dared to give no...Like she didn't heed anything she didn't give anything
to Pa. And she doesn't really give much to Albert in the beginning. It's Celie's point of view.
It's Celie's experience. And so we're so sympathetic to Celie and she never breaks from
that. So I think that alone is just like radical and revolutionary. And also it's really hard for
all people, but Black people, it's hard for us to kind of stay with the voice of a Black girl. It's
hard for us to listen to it and take it seriously. So that's one thing. The other thing I do think
for me as an activist and as a rape survivor myself, I've always been interested in Black
unity that is centered around love and centered around healing and centered around the
voices of us that are the most marginalized. And so what I think the book threatened was a
myth of Black unity that doesn't have a feminist framework, or it says that Black women
and Black girls or Black women and Black children are supposed to experience violence in
some quest for racial justice, we're supposed to stay silent. And that's like not really
freedom. That's like partial freedom or semi freedom or not freedom, as opposed to when
you get to the end of The Color Purple and there's this really loving community. It's like we
think of as a blended community now. Right. It is accepting. Albert has made amends and

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he's returned to the community. And that kind of a utopia ending, I feel like, is what I think
of as Black unity. And so I want people to understand that we can have these
conversations about sexual violence and domestic violence and we can have them
because we want people to be healed and we want them to be whole and we want Black
people to be liberated. We don't want to be harming each other. And we don't want white
supremacy to be determining what we can talk about or what we can fight or what we
should be doing, how we should be treating each other. You know, because I do this work
a lot in so many different areas, I'm just like white supremacy is so, it just screws with so
many different ways. We can't even talk about sexual violence because of white
supremacy. Right. So there's...we can't be sexually liberated people because of white
supremacy. So to defy white supremacy in my mind means that we should actually work
through these issues and confront them head-on. The other thing I want to say about
these issues and the way that movie was received at the time, most of the critics were
African-American men, not exclusively but many, but also I wanted to pay attention to
Danny Glover and Quincy Jones, who were champions of this story and sacrificed a great
deal, specifically Quincy Jones, to get this movie made. And I think they're kind of
forgotten heroes in some ways in this story. And it was really fascinating for me to unearth
and interview them about why this, why Celie's story was so important to be told and why
they went through such great lengths to tell it. And Glover talks about just imbuing Albert
with a dignity that I think a lot of the critics either didn't want to see or they felt like him as a
stereotype was just too big of an Albatros to kind of overcome.

Danielle ​So we can't really have a conversation about this book or even Walker's work
without acknowledging how it dovetails with your own. And you and your sister
Scheherezade founded A Long Walk Home, an organization for survivors of sexual
violence. You credit Walker with not only helping you find your own vehicle for healing
from sexual assault, but inspire you and others like our friend Tarana Burke to create more
spaces for healing. For those who are unfamiliar, can you explain the mission of A Long
Walk Home and how you consider it an extension of this Black feminist creative legacy?

Salamishah Tillet ​Thank you. Yeah, Scheherazade and I founded A Long Walk Home in
2003, this art organization that empowers young people to end violence against girls and
women. Our specific focus is on girls of color and Black girls and young women who are
artists. Right, who are artists in their schools and their communities. And they are tackling
and confronting issues of racial injustice and gender equity. So, but as a survivor, when I
disclosed to my sister in 1997 that I was a sexual assault survivor, she often talks about
how difficult that moment was for her. And she just didn't know. She responded in silence
in some ways. And then two years later, she was in a social documentary class and I was
actively healing and she started photographing my journey to self. So in that way, that's
like Celie's journey to self. And then there's my journey to self. And then we created A
Long Walk Home. There's a poem that I wrote that my sister found in my journal years,
obviously many years ago the night after I was—I was sexually assaulted twice. So in my
first year of college, and then a study, I was on a study abroad program in Kenya. And the
night I, the morning I walked home after my sexual assault in Kenya, I have this poem
called The Walk Home, and it's a description of me trying to understand what had just
happened to me. So our organization is A Long Walk Home because we really are helping
people not only seek justice and find community with others, but also what does that
journey to oneself look like and what does that journey to home look like? How can home
be a safe space? Home both as our physical homes and home as our nation? And so if
you have seen the original version of Alice Walker's The Color Purple, there's a beautiful
house on it. And so that inspired the cover of my book. So, yeah, I think that A Long Walk
Home is in many ways another kind of granddaughter of The Color Purple, because we're

Air Date: 3/5/21
working with young people, Black girls and young women who identify as feminists who
are using art to speak their truth, but also empower each other. The Color Purple, the
novel is also a story of sisterhood and sisterhood extends beyond Nettie and Celie to this
larger community of Sophia and also Sophia and Shug as also Squeak right, there are all
these people and then Harpo and Albert are part of that as well. So it's me and my sister,
kind of, obviously, we have that sisterhood and Scheherazade was so instrumental to my
healing. But then we also have founded an organization on that notion of sisterhood. And I
think Black women, we understand what sisterhood looks like when we do it well, we
understand that it's not just a biological relationship, but it's a political practice and a
political practice that can literally create Georgia going blue. Right. Like, that's what Black
sisterhood looks like. And so—.

Danielle ​That is exactly what it looks like.

Salamishah Tillet ​Yeah. So, yeah, we all are...We know what it means to be a sister, so,
and how much of a compliment it is to call another Black woman that as well. So.

Danielle ​Definitely. Definitely. So we're running out of time.

Salamishah Tillet ​Yes. This was so though.

Danielle ​This was such an amazing conversation. Like obviously, you know, The Color
Purple is one of our favorite books so we can talk about this forever, and your book is
amazing. But we have to ask before we go, let you go: how did Alice Walker respond to
your book?

Salamishah Tillet ​Oh, my goodness. Sorry. Hold on. Let me get you. I think this is it. Well,
she responded twice. So can I tell you both stories? Sorry, podcast. I'm opening a
package. For listeners, dear listener. So she asked for the manuscript before the final
version. And so this is it.

Maiysha ​Wow.

Danielle ​Oh wow.

Salamishah Tillet ​And this is it without. So this is the book without there's not a tree on
the cover. This is the, um... And so she put a tree and she says, "because God is
everything of nature, at least one tree," because her God is the everything of nature, at
least one tree. And so she says that. And then she gave me like feedback which was like,
oh my God, but she was really generous. I mean, some fact things like, you know, I think I
got Albert's name wrong in one section or something. There are little descriptions I must
have, I had about like what I assumed her tone was. And she was like, I don't know if that's
true. But she was really, really, really a very generous and very disciplined reader,
because this, I have to assume so much about her. So so I was, that was one that was like
the first you know, I was like, really anxious too. And Valerie was very helpful in that
process because she knew that because as an academic, you don't, like, ever give your.
Or as a journalist like we don't hand over our readings of the things to the people, so it's a
very vulnerable experience and I and I think vulnerable for her in some ways, too. So that
was the first version. And then when the book came out and she received it last month,
she sent me a really nice note from Mexico. She received it right before she went to her
house in Mexico and she loved it. I guess she read it twice in one night. I know she's a fast
reader obviously, I mean—.

Air Date: 3/5/21

Maiysha ​As you indicate in your, as you indicate in the book, apparently that second read,
that second viewing, that second something is magical for her. So, you know, sometimes
we need a minute to...

Salamishah Tillet ​Yes.

Maiysha ​Absorb.

Salamishah Tillet ​You're right. Yes. You're so right with the musical and the movie. Yeah.
Thank you for that. I hadn't thought of that. Thank you. Look at you. You readin' my
reading so thank you.

Danielle ​Well, Salamishah, it was so amazing having you on It's Lit.

Salamishah Tillet ​I know. Thank you. This was so good. I have to come back with Nina.

Maiysha ​Please bring Nina back to us, please.

Salamishah Tillet ​Yeah. Thank you so much. Have a good afternoon and stay warm
wherever you are.

Maiysha ​You too.

Danielle ​Thank you so much.

Maiysha ​The Root Presents: It's Lit is produced by myself, Maiysha Kai and Micaela Heck.
Our sound engineer, is Ryan Allen.

Danielle ​If you like the show and want to help us out, please give us a rating on Apple
Podcasts. It really helps other people find the show. If you have any thoughts or feedback,
you can find me on Twitter at Black Snob or on Instagram at Belton Danielle.

Maiysha ​And you can find me at Maiysha on Twitter. That's M A I Y S H A, and at Maiysha
Kai on Instagram.

Danielle ​And before we go, we always like to talk a bit about what we're currently reading.
Maiysha, what are you reading these days?

Maiysha ​You know, we were talking about The Color Purple, but one of the other Alice
Walker books that came up in this conv—well not in this conversation, but in this book,
was The Third Life of Grange Copeland. And, you know, I don't think I really realized
before Salamishah's interrogation of this book how much of Alice Walker's writings, you
know, her early writings especially, were actually influenced by members of her own
family, which, you know, really brings a whole other dimension to that old platitude, write
what you know, so I'm digging into that. You know, I'm really interested in that because I
think of all of Alice Walker's poetry and books that I'm so familiar with. That's one I really
am not. So it got me into that. What are you reading these days, Danielle? You're always
reading something great.

Danielle ​Oh, I am reading Vénus Noire: Black Women and Colonial Fantasies in 19th
Century France by Robin Mitchell. The book is fascinating. It's one part, a historical

Air Date: 3/5/21
examination of I believe it's just three, three different Black women in France during the
mid-eighteen hundreds and France's response to these Black women. And it opens with
Robin basically being allowed to see the molding or the cast they made of...God I'm
blanking on her name. I feel so bad about it. They called her the Hottentot Venus, which is.

Maiysha ​Oh, Sarah Baartman.

Danielle ​Sarah Baartman. Thank you for reminding me.

Maiysha ​Yes, yes. I've been reading about her lately myself so she's top of mind,.

Danielle ​Yes.

Maiysha ​Yes.

Danielle ​It's a very emotional journey where she gets to be in this room with basically this
remnant of Sarah Baartman. And it's, it's emotional. It's powerful. It's overwhelming for her,
but it's reflective of just like how Black women and our bodies have been used politically
often to make the case for other people, but not the case for ourselves.

Maiysha ​Wow.

Danielle ​And so it's a powerful book in that regard. So I've been enjoying it.

Maiysha ​A word.

Danielle ​Although enjoy feels like not the right word, but, it's just been fascinating. It's a
fascinating read.

Maiysha ​I will just say you just dropped a word right there, so I'm going to have to cop that

Danielle ​Definitely. Definitely check Robin's work out. She's great. She teases me quite a
bit about how she can't be on The Root 100. So I figured, let me shout out her book.

Maiysha ​We all tease you about that.

Danielle ​Like why can't I be on The Root 100? What do you mean I've aged out?

Maiysha ​I've done things.

Danielle ​I'm still doing stuff. I'm still relevant.

Maiysha ​I write for The Root.

Danielle ​Exactly. Exactly. And that's it for us this week. Thanks so much for listening. And
we'll see you again next week.

Maiysha ​In the meantime, keep it lit.


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