"Those who have experienced Paris have advantage over those who have not. We are the ones who have glimpsed a little bit of heaven, down here on earth." - Deirdre Kelly

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Color Purple

It's the 25th anniversary of the breathtaking, gorgeous movie The Color Purple. Yesterday, Oprah devoted an entire show in celebration, with all of the original ensemble cast - it was fabulous! But while I was watching the show, all I could think about is the incredible book, that's even better than the film, and represents one of the major transformative moments in my life...

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker (my 1st edition cover, 1982).

  In brief, The Color Purple is set in early 1900s Georgia and is a fictional compilation of the diary entries and letters of the protagonist Celie. The book begins when Celie is 14 years old and ends when she's in her 60s. It revolves around Celie's abusive relationships with the men around her, her soul searing relationship with her sister (Nettie) - but most importantly, her evolution from a vulnerable abused girl and young woman to a strong, independent, beautiful, fierce Black woman.

The Color Purple Movie Poster (circa 1985)

I was 13 when my mother gave me my beloved/prized copy of Ms. Walker's novel (1982). I had never read anything like it. It was the first adult book I ever read. The Color Purple deals with painful adult themes and it is sometimes painful to 'live' Celie's life through her eyes (especially as a young girl). But here's the thing...Celie's story was the first time in my life that I had read about a Black woman's life: her views of and about the world around her, God, her awakening to the boundless potential of her place in the world, and the innate undeniable beauty and power of her Blackness.

It was a powerful thing for me to begin to think about my Blackness as something that I could define and shape on my terms. The Color Purple was the spark that lit a blazing roaring fire that burns bright to this very second. You've got to understand: in 1980s America, African American history, as an academic subject, largely did not exist - let alone the history of Black women. But, my 13 year old insatiably curious girl's mind told me that Alice Walker could not be the only one. There were other stories/histories of Black women (fiction and non), written by Black women. All I had to do was find them, maybe write them myself. That spark set me on the path to becoming a historian, writer and professor. And I was right.

Over the next 10 years I read, then I read some more. But it was when I enrolled at Loyola University Chicago that I officially began to train as a historian. I had the supreme luck and honor to apprentice with some amazing writers/historians:

Dr. Ayana Karanja
Director of Loyola's Black World Studies Department
I was her personal and research assistant for nearly 3 years
Dr. Cheryl Johnson-Odim - my dissertation advisor
Her publications, acheivements and acolades are too numerous to list

These women were first my teachers and mentors, but quickly became my dear friends. They opened up an entirely new world...
Deborah Gray White, historian and author of the seminal Black Women's history work:
A'rn't I A Woman (1985).

Alice Walker

The Color Purple's 25th anniversary is a full-circle moment for me. So much has happened, I've traveled so far from that insatiably curious precocious 13 year old girl. While my journey was not as harrowing as Celie's, I too have awakened to the boundless potential of my place in the world and the innate undeniable beauty and power of my Blackness. I'm reminded of one of my favorite Alice Walker lines: "in search of my mother's garden, I found my own."

"I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and not notice it"

Vivre, rire, aimer!


Dorothy Elizabeth Tsenes (Mom) ~ Strength, Beauty, Wisdom, Love.
My greatest inspiration, my staunchest supporter, my best friend.

1 comment:

  1. That was a nice tribute to the important women in your life.


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