A Keeping of Records: The Art and Life of Alice Walker
A Keeping of Records: the Art and Life of Alice Walker
April 23 - September 27, 2009
“People are known by the records they keep,” observes Alice Walker. “If it isn’t in the records, it will be said it didn’t happen. That is what history is: a keeping of records.”
A Keeping of Records: the Art and Life of Alice Walker is an exhibition whose parts are drawn from the archive of Alice Walker: a genius of the South whose corpus is a permanent part of our national and world literature. Emory University has served as the custodian of the Alice Walker archive, a national treasure, since December 2007. A landmark event in the world of arts and letters, the exhibition commemorates the arrival of the Alice Walker archive to the African American Collections of Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), and the opening of the Walker archive to researchers and to the public.
The organizing principle for the exhibition is the palimpsest. A palimpsest is a document that has been written upon several times, often with remnants of earlier, partially erased writing still visible. Such a text contains multiple layers of meaning with varying degrees of visibility and significance. The palimpsest evokes, then, the complexity, dynamism, and ambiguity of Walker’s art and life.
“A Keeping of Records” spans the period from 1944 to the present. It contains two hundred items—manuscripts, letters, notebooks, photographs, memorabilia—that suggest the richness of the Walker archive. The various sections of the exhibition focus on the major periods and events in Walker’s life, which are treated chronologically, as well as thematically. The exhibition provides an historical and cultural framework for understanding Walker’s emergence and evolution as writer and activist, and thus the manner in which she not only survived, but prevailed against a system whose objective was her subordination, if not annihilation. It reveals the manner in which Walker, guided by a strong inner vision, chose self-assertion and community over subordination and isolation—voice over silence. The exhibition also documents the various stages of the writing process, and thus Walker’s effort to resist amnesia and to achieve conscious eloquence. Along with this, the exhibition chronicles her efforts to negotiate the relationship between region and imagination, between history and memory, between beauty and revolution, between darkness and illumination.
“A Keeping of Records” is testimony of Walker’s commitment as a black Southern woman writer to the sublime effort of ordering human experience through the medium of art. Far more than a record of a public and successful career, the exhibition reveals the manner in which Walker chose to live a life devoted to the highest artistic standards, and to the development of our shared humanity. The art and life of Alice Walker educates the heart and mind, and nurtures the spirit.
-Rudolph P. Byrd
"I chose Emory to receive my archive because I myself feel at ease and comfortable at Emory. That being so I can imagine in years to come that my papers and memorabilia, my journals and letters, will find themselves always in the company of people who care about many of the things I do: culture, community, spirituality, scholarship and the blessings of ancestors who want each of us to find joy and happiness in this life, by doing the very best we can to be worthy of it.
When I began considering where to place my archive Emory was not on my list. However, having visited several libraries at different universities I realized the importance to me of a lively, diverse, committed-to-human-growth atmosphere, that, when I visited Emory, I found. I also realized my deep love of my native South, and of Georgia in particular. I knew that though I might never live in Georgia again, my first seventeen years growing up Georgian made a powerful imprint on my spirit and that it was the beauty of the rural community into which I was born that accounts for much of my passion, optimism and faith in the goodness of others. Emory struck me, on visiting it, to have light, a compassionate and thoughtful light, that made even the buildings seem softer and more inviting than those I encountered in other places.
I also found friends, a necessity for the Aquarian born! Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Rudolph Byrd, Randall Burkett, a magic trio who introduced me to the fabulous exhibits the Woodruff Library has mounted of events and people of the past whose work is essential to our National and International understanding. I was delighted to learn of the recent addition of the Dalai Lama to the Emory faculty. In a statement he made he said the presence of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta had drawn him South. Both of these great teachers are a blessing to us all, and confirmation, if any more were needed, that Emory, as a place that has embraced one of the most enlightened leaders of the planet, and invited his wisdom into Emory’s student and faculty life, is a place where my archive can rest with joy in the company it keeps."
-Alice Walker, December 2007