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To The Best Of Our Knowledge
December 1, 2018

Write More Poems, Dance More Dances

Shannon Henry Kleiber and Alice Walker

Alice Walker told me I should write more poems. Well, not me only (though I am enjoying taking it personally) but all of us, if we want to. Also, we should dance more.

She’s been angry at some of what she’s seen in U.S. politics and in our world, including how we are treating our planet and how we are raising our children. She thinks writing poetry, in whatever version we make it, is one of the only ways to intervene peacefully and powerfully in the world today.

I recently spent several hours with Walker in the serene northern Michigan town of Traverse City. We were both there to speak at the National Writers Series, and I asked if she would do an interview with us for To the Best of Our Knowledge, borrowing a studio from Interlochen Public Radio. Walker’s publicist said she would, but they would need transportation. So my friend Lisa volunteered, cleaned out her family van and stocked it with water and snacks to drive Alice to the studio.

I felt grateful for the drive to and from, flanking the actual interview, a little over a half hour each way — that was a lot of time to talk with Alice. At 74, Walker seems small but sturdy, and that day was wearing turquoise jewelry, a long silver down coat and sparkly nail polish. Her voice is quiet and melodious, ethereal and wise even beyond her years. I wondered if as a child she had sounded so knowing.

She said she read Angie Thomas’s “The Hate U Give” with her grandson and recommends reading the book and then seeing the movie, both of which she loved. She was worried about her home in Mexico, with a hurricane approaching. She has found great joy in having a little dog, Charlie, in her life.

We talked about sickness, which we both had gone through, and she told me a story about being so ill she couldn’t stand up, but making herself go to a protest. Walker said forcing her body to work made it come back to life again, as if her immune system had been re-ignited. “If you ever get sick again, that is what you should do,” she said.

I will, and I’m going to write some poetry, too.


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Could Getting Mad Empower Women?

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Throughout history, there’s been a general, unspoken agreement that getting angry, especially for women, is something to be avoided. But what if getting angry was actually productive?
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A Woman Is Struck By Lightning. Did She Meet God?

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Elizabeth Krohn says she left her body, went somewhere else, met and talked to God. And then came back to dream the future. What does her experience tell us about where religion comes from?
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Bryan Stevenson Recommends "Gilead"

"Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson
Human rights attorney Bryan Stevenson works to challenge excessive punishment and mass incarceration, and wrote a book about his experiences called "Just Mercy." He recommends a novel that reminds us of the importance of compassion, mercy, and connection with others in our lives — values that he feels we lack when it comes to considering our criminal justice system.
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T.C. Boyle Recommends “Winter World”

"Winter World" by Bernd Heinrich
How does a hummingbird survive in subzero winter temperatures? Why endure them at all? Author T.C. Boyle couldn’t understand why the small bird would be anywhere near his mountain writing retreat, but he found the answer in Bernd Heinrich’s “Winter World.”
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Zulu Time: Artist Kambui Olujimi Explores the Many Dimensions of Time

Kambui Olujimi: The Drop, from the series InDecisive Moments, 2017. Glass, approx. 30 x 20 x 20 inches. Courtesy the artist.
It’s hard to wrap your head around climate change. How do you really take in the concept of planetary change over decades or even centuries? Visual artist Kambui Olujimi explores different ideas about time in his one-man show “Zulu Time.”
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Let’s Get Serious About the Anthropocene

Historian Iain McCalman’s Dangerous Idea? The Anthropocene — the idea that humans have fundamentally changed our global climate. It’s scary, but we’re also seeing people come together in unprecedented ways to solve planetary problems.
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