Second time’s a charm.
Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Color Purple,” accepted an invitation to speak at the biennial Zora Neale Hurston Lecture for the Department Afroamerican and African Studies held in November.
The University originally invited Walker to speak at the 50th anniversary event of the Center for Education of Women to be held in early 2014. CEW later rescinded the invitation after deciding Walker was not the “optimum choice” speaker for the event, according to Gloria Thomas, director for CEW.
“I believe we have all learned something from our efforts to reach out to one another, and I believe also that — if solar flares or deeply unintelligent wars haven’t carried us off — it will be a good time,” Walker wrote.
This event will be co-sponsored by the CEW and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. While the Center disinvited her to speak at one of the opening events for its 50th anniversary, she will close the celebration with this lecture, which will be the 16th in the Zora Neale Hurston lecture series.
In 2003, Walker gave a speech at the Barnard Center for Research on Women that depicted her connection with Zora Neale Hurston, the namesake for the lecture series and famous Harlem Renaissance anthropologist and author. While many of Hurston’s works were undiscovered or forgotten, Walker brought them to light in the 1970s.
“It has been my experience in this life that whenever, on my path of love and devotion to life, I have had cause to falter, an Ancestor has appeared, ready and willing to steady my step,” Walker wrote on her blog in reference to Hurston. “Those of you who know the history that connects me with Zora Neale Hurston will understand why I stand now in my kitchen enjoying her warm chuckle of support for all of us.”
After Walker was disinvited to speak at CEW’s 50th anniversary event, she posted a letter on her blog — that she claimed was from her agent — that said donors sponsoring the 50th anniversary event threatened to withdraw their funding due to Walker’s stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Walker is represented by The Wendy Weil Agency, but it is not clear who from the agency wrote the letter.
Walker’s latest book “The Cushion in the Road,” published in 2013, included criticism of Israel that the Anti-Defamation League called “80 pages to a screed” on the conflict and “explicit comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany.”
Thomas released a statement in August that apologized for how CEW dealt with Walker’s invitation, noting that “all donations, for this and for other events, are accepted with no provisos or prohibitions regarding free speech.”
In an e-mail to faculty in August, University Provost Martha Pollack said the University is committed to free speech and diversity, and the decision to rescind the invitation “was based solely on the celebratory nature they hoped to achieve at their anniversary event.”