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AN INTERVIEW WITH MARGARET WALKER Margaret Walker Margaret Walker has lived and taught in Jackson, Mississippi, since 1949. She has published ten books, including five volumes of poetry, one volume of essays, a biography of Richard Wright, and her epic novel of the Civil War, Jubilee. In 1942 she won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award for For My People, becoming the first American black woman to win a major literary prize in this country. Margaret Walker was born in 1915 in Birmingham, Alabama, the daughter of a Methodist minister father and a musician mother. After graduating from Northwestern University in 1935, Walker worked for the WPA in the Chicago area for three years, where she was befriended by Nelson Algren, Jack Conroy, and Richard Wright, through whom she joined the South Side Writers Group. After the very bitter break up of her friendship with Wright, which she wrote about for the first time in her biography, Richard Wright: Daemonic Genius (Warner Books, 1988), Walker went to graduate school at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1939, eventually returning for a Ph.D. in 1965, with the draft of Jubilee as her dissertation. Of special note: In what is being called a landmark decision on "fair use," the U.S. Court of Appeals in November, 1991, ruled against the Richard Wright estate, who had sued Margaret Walker and Warner Books over her use in the biography of letters, journal entries, and an earlier essay she had written about Wright. This interview was conducted by Kay Bonetti, Director of the American Audio Prose Library. The Prose Library offers tapes of American authors reading and discussing their work. For information contact AAPL at P.O. Box 842, Columbia, MO 65205. An Interview with Margaret Walker Alexander /Kay Bonetti Interviewer: Ms. Walker, when you were a teenager, after you'd finished two years of college in New Orleans, Langston Hughes told your parents that their daughter had talent and that they should get you out of the South. Why? Walker: Langston was saying that I couldn't get the kind of education I needed there. The summer before I went to Northwestern, some Jewish friends of my mother and father took my poetry to a professor of English at Tulane University, Richard Kirk. I dared not walk on that campus. At that time the only black people who could go over on Tulane's campus had to be maids and cooks and janitors. He wrote me a nice little note, said he thought I had talent, if I was willing to work. Interviewer: How did you decide on Northwestern? Walker: My mother and my father had gone there. It was a Methodist school and Methodist ministers could send their children there cheaper—they'd get a rebate. It cost about six hundred dollars a year, and they took off a hundred and some dollars of each semester for us. When I left school I still owed some of the money. I paid it though. Interviewer: After you finished school you stayed in Chicago for a time working on the Federal Writers' Project of the WPA. At the end of that time you made a most interesting statement. You said, "I felt the thing that I had to do then was to go to graduate school and get a teaching job back south." Why did you want to go back? The Missouri Review · IÎ3 Walker: The South is symbolic—the violence of the South, the protest, the struggle, all of that. The South is both an historic region and a mythic ideal. AU my images, in my poetry, come from out of the South, where I was a child, where my imagination was formed, and where I was an adolescent. I never felt at home anywhere but in the South. Interviewer: And yet, why do you have to live there to write about it? Look at all the southern writers who have left. Walker: Tm one of the few black writers who lives in the South and writes there. Alice Walker told me she had to get out of Mississippi. She simply could not write there. I don't feel that I have...


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