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"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker.

Professors of American literature frequently bemoan the fact that college students of the nineties often have little knowledge of the Black Power Movement and the Second Wave of the Feminist Movement, two social interventions that define the literary commitments of many contemporary writers and shape as well our viewpoints about the social commitment of higher education. While our students will tell us that the sixties and seventies are tantamount to "ancient history," formal courses in U.S. history seldom focus on the recent past. Moreover, our students tend to assume that the highly visible postmodern performances of the nineties - such as sartorial politics, multi-cultural advertisement, and feminist and Afrocentric slogan-making - just appeared from nowhere. As a result, they often separate the performance from political statement and commitment, as if each had separate origins.

Rutgers University Press has found a way to address this and other generation gaps by publishing a series of textbooks that focuses on short literary works by diverse women writers: "Women Writers Texts and Context" series. In addition to the volume on Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," there are currently five others on Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," Flannery O"Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find," Katherine Anne Porter's "Flowering Judas," Leslie Marmon Silko's "Yellow Woman," and Hisaye Yamamoto's "Seventeen Syllables." Although the series editors do not provide critical statements of intent for the volumes, I suggest that these are ideal textbooks for the introduction to literature class.

The "Everyday Use" volume, edited and introduced by Barbara T. Christian, showcases the corpus of Walker's works and the traditions of African-American literature by focusing on "Everyday Use." This short story, as Christian explains, "first articulates the metaphor of quilting to represent the creative legacy that African Americans have inherited from their maternal ancestors" (3). As background to the story, the volume includes Walker's "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens," her own formulation of the wellsprings of black female creativity; "For My Sister Molly Who in the Fifties," a poem about Walker's own sister, who is much like the proud Dee who renames herself Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo in the story; and an early interview with Walker by John O'Brien (29).

The remaining portion of the volume contains several critical essays by well-known scholars: "An Essay on Alice Walker" by Mary Helen Washington; "Alice Walker's Celebration of Self in Southern Generations" by Thadious M. Davis; "Alice Walker: The Black Woman Artist as Wayward" by Barbara T. Christian; "Patches: Quilts and Community in Alice Walker's 'Everyday Use' "by Houston A. Baker, Jr., and Charlotte Pierce-Baker; "Sisters' Choice: Quilting Aesthetics in Contemporary African-American Women's Fiction" by Margot Anne Kelley; and "Common Threads" by Elaine Showalter. These works analyze "Everyday Use" as well as situate it in Walker's corpus of works and in the literary traditions that empower it. Together, these features assist students to see that meaning is not fixed but is related to temporal issues and points of view. In this way students can see that literature is a "living" cultural artifact, indeed a participatory art form that offers them opportunities to interpret its various meanings and to relate them to their own lives.

Reviewed by Claudia C. Tate George Washington University
COPYRIGHT 1996 African American Review
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Tate, Claudia C.
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1996
Words:533
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