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Author interview: Alice Walker wants you to wake up!

Author Alice Walker

Author Alice Walker

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Alice Walker will read from her two new books, “A Cushion in the Road” and “The World Will Follow Joy,” 7:30 p.m. Monday at First Free Church, 5255 N. Ashland. Get a free ticket with purchase of either book from Women and Children First, 5233 N. Clark.

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It’s been 30 years since Alice Walker wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Color Purple,” but its impact lives on through a hit movie and a Broadway musical, which is now set to hit the stage in London this fall. But Walker is not one to rest on her laurels. She continues to write novels — two of which feature characters from “The Color Purple” — children’s books, poetry and essays.

With the release of her two latest books, “The Cushion in the Road” (New Press, $26.95), a collection of essays on politics and spirituality, and “The World Will Follow Joy” (New Press, $21.95), a book of poetry, Walker wants her readers to do one thing: “Wake up” to what’s going on around them.

“This is a wonderful planet and it is being completely destroyed by people who have too much money and power and no empathy,” Walker said. “It would be a great thing for people to awaken to the reality that we have to change this system. It is killing us.”

A system, the passionately opinionated Walker says, where “endless wars and bombings” are conducted by world leaders, including the United States, where “drones attack people we’ve never seen or known.”

In “The Cushion in the Road,” Walker states that Palestine has been destroyed and replaced with Israel. She supports a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to “end the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank,” which Walker believes is a modern-day comparison to the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., during the civil rights era.

The book has raised the ire of the Anti-Defamation League, which claimed Walker has a long history of antipathy to Israel and “has taken her extreme and hostile views to a shocking new level.”

Walker was quick to retort when asked about the organization’s censure of her book.

“It is pathetic,” she said. “If you object to violence against children, women and old people, then you are anti-Semitic, because the perpetuators happen to be Israeli. It is ridiculous.”

Also in the book, Walker speaks of her optimism when Barack Obama was elected president, which she said has since changed due to issues such as the use of drones and homeowners losing their homes.

“I’m very disappointed in him,” she said. “Those early pieces were at a time when I was very hopeful. I don’t have that anymore.

“He oversaw the giving back of trillions of dollars to the banks who threw a lot of people … into the streets,” Walker added. “I know black people love the idea that we finally have a beautiful, good-looking, black president. But if he is doing awful things to us, we should wake up.”

Walker does approve of the actions of Edward J. Snowden, the former employee of the National Security Agency and the CIA, who blew the whistle on national surveillance programs.

“He did a very courageous thing as well as [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange and [U.S. Army whistleblower] Bradley Manning,” she said. “Until we know what our governments are doing to us and not for us, what chance do we have?”

Walker was also disappointed to hear of the closure of so many Chicago Public Schools.

“We sit around and wait for this to change on its own,” she said. “Our children don’t have a chance. The prison doors are wide open. People don’t have to live like they are living, and they have forgotten that.”

A first step, Walker believes, is for people to get together to discuss issues that concern them.

“Every person should have a circle of people that they can talk to,” she says, “and just go right to the mat on all these issues.”

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