By Alice Walker
like turning an insignificant bore into a heroic lover in a romantic drama.
That’s why I sweated.
I felt that the entire edifice of the front page would depend on the wording of my first sentence. Crumpled sheets of aborted copy filled my wastepaper basket (every desk had one).
Now I completed a new opening sentence in the appropriate style … and was about to add the full stop when a hand came down and ripped the copy paper from my machine.
The hand belonged to The Editor, no less. He read what I hadn’t been given time to read; humphed, and passed it to a waiting messenger. Now I had to type a second paragraph, without being sure of how my oftattempted first one was finally worded. And The Editor stood there, waiting. Perhaps I would have frozen in that heat were it not for Philip Stohr, erudite senior writer and ex-serviceman sitting just behind me, where the sun didn’t shine. He drove the editor away.
The paragraphs began to flow, until I needed to pause to light a cigarette. To my horror, I found I had one, already lit, in my mouth. And another burning in the ashtray. I threw the third one into my wastebasket and resolved never to smoke again. Then I heard Philip’s voice behind me: “I say, old man … ” Nice being called “old man” when you’re still a second-year junior. “I say! Better do something about that wastebasket. It’s smoking.”
That sounded to me like a joke … until it burst into flames reaching up to my elbow, and we both jumped up and threw the fireball out the window.
It was not an easily forgettable experience. I hadn’t had time, while writing the last two “takes” of the, ahem, main lead to see what happened to my flaming wastebasket as it dropped two storeys into the side alley.
Did the fire spread? Was anyone hurt?
Philip assured me there was nothing to worry about. Shortly before I arrived on the newspaper, he said, a chap called Willy had leapt up with a roar of rage and hurled an ultraheavy Underwood typewriter out of that same window. No one had been injured.
That’s alright then, I felt; until I began to wonder what would happen if we were ever to work in an airconditioned office with sealed windows.
The thought was enough to force me to give up my new non-smoking vows … though I’m proud to say that by taking to Ernest Hemingway-type cigarillos (shorter and thinner than Cuban cigars) I was able to kick the habit quite easily on my 15th attempt two decades later. Orion Publishing Group, an imprint of Jonathan Ball Publishers
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Alice Walker is a celebrated US author, poet and activist who won the Pulitzer prize for Fiction in 1983. Some of her best-selling novels include The Color Purple and Now is the Time to Open Your Heart.
Her work has been translated into more than two dozen languages, and her books have sold more than 15 million copies.
Walker has recently published a collection of almost 70 pieces, where she takes us through pivotal moments in her life.
for Sundus Shaker Saleh, Iraqi mother, with my love In our despair that justice is slow we sit with heads bowed wondering how even whether we will ever be healed. Perhaps it is a question only the ravaged the violated seriously ask.
And is that not now almost all of us?
But hope is on the way. As usual Hope is a woman herding her children around her all she retains of who she was; as usual except for her kids she has lost almost everything.
Hope is a woman who has lost her fear.
Along with her home, her employment, her parents, her olive trees, her grapes. The peace of independence; the reassuring noises of ordinary neighbors. Hope rises, she always does, did we fail to notice this in all the stories they’ve tried to suppress? Hope rises, and she puts on her same unfashionable threadbare cloak and, penniless, she flings herself against the cold, polished, protective chain mail of the very powerful the very rich—chain mail that mimics suspiciously silver coins and lizard scales— and all she has to fight with is the reality of what was done to her; to her country; her people; her children; her home.
All she has as armor is what she has learned must never be done.
Not in the name of War and especially never in the name of Peace.
Hope is always the teacher with the toughest homework.
Our assignment: to grasp what has never been breathed in our stolen Empire on the hill:
Without justice, we will never be healed.
● For more information about the inspiring courage of this mother of five, visit codepink.org