Alice Walker: Writers and Their Cats

Writers and their cats are legendary. Activist Alice Walker’s best-known book is probably The Color Purple, the novel that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983. She is the first African-American woman be awarded the prize. Her work is impressive by any measure: novels, essays, poetry, short stories, and children’s books.

Like Ernest Hemmingway, Alice Walker is also a writer who loves cats. A cat who became important to her following her divorce was named Tuscaloosa. It means “Black Warrior” in Choctaw. The name reflects the vulnerability she felt as a single woman in New York. As she worked at her desk in her second-story apartment in Park Slope Brooklyn, overlooking the street, “Tuscaloosa sat at my feet. More often I wrote propped-up in bed; he snoozed, placid and warm, by my knees.” Another cat, Willis, was named for the Willis Avenue Bridge in New York where she was found. Alice Walker’s cats are rescue cats.

Above, she is pictured with Frieda.

On beloved cats

In Anything You Love Can Be Saved, Walker tells about wanting another cat after being without one. But having cats wasn’t so easy for her because of her travels. Cats may seem self-sufficient. They like having their people around, however. The relationship between writers and their cats is a two-way street. 

Walker and her daughter set out to find a cat, making the rounds of shelters in the area. “It was here that we found Frida, a two-year-old long-haired calico with big yellow eyes and one orange leg. She was so bored with shelter life that on each of our visits she was sound asleep.”

It wasn’t an easy relationship at first. Walker is not a morning person, something Frida refused to respect. In Alice Walker’s 1997 essay, Frida, the Perfect Familiar, she talks about how they came to terms. Frida became an important part of her life. “When it is bedtime I pick her up, cuddle her, whisper what a sweet creature she is, how beautiful and wonderful, how lucky I am to have her in my life, and that I will love her always.”

Above, Alice Walker writes while Frieda stands watch in the sun. 

Life-lessons from cats

Alice Walker reads from Broken Things at the opening of her archives at Emory University in April 2009.

Walker draws life-lessons from her cat. For example, in a conversation with Jody Hoy, she uses Frieda to illustrate why something is worth doing, even if we can’t do it perfectly. Frieda is snaggle-toothed. Someone else might see her imperfect teeth, but when Walker looks at her, she sees the rough life that Frieda had before she was rescued. “I look at her and see the absolute perfection—the charming perfection—of her imperfection.”

Listen to Alice Walker read from Broken Things.

Read More About Walker and Her Cats

Here are some resources I have drawn on and that you might enjoy:

Excerpt from Alice Walker, “The Richness of the Very Ordinary Stuff”: A Conversation with Jody Hoy (1994). 

Alison Nastasi, Writers and Their Cats. Chronicle Books, 2018.

Diana Ventimiglia, ed., The Karma of Cats: Spiritual Wisdom from Our Feline Friends

Picture credits are in the links above. 

If you have a favorite cat, I’d love to hear about it. Comment below or leave a comment in the “Contact” section of the website.

 

 
 

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