Alice Walker: "The Chicken Chronicles"

MS. SUSAN PAGE

11:06:55
Thanks for joining us, I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Alice Walker is best known for her 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "The Color Purple." She has since published several other novels and collections of short studies and poetry. Her new book, "The Chicken Chronicles," describes her experience over the last few years raising backyard chickens at her home outside of San Francisco and how it turned into a journey of personal discovery. Alice Walker joins us in the studio. Welcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show."

MS. ALICE WALKER

11:07:31
Thank you so much.

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11:07:33
We invite our listeners to join us in our conversation later in this hour. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850 or send us an e-mail at drshow@wamu.org, you can find us on Facebook or Twitter. So I have to say, even some fans who think they know everything about you, I think, might be surprised to learn that you have been keeping chickens. How did that come about?

WALKER

11:07:59
Well, I was actually in Bali in many -- three decades ago and I was coming home from a fire dance and I saw a mother chicken with her babies and I was transfixed. And I couldn't figure out why they were so vivid for me and they stuck with me. In fact, I came back, I was an editor at Ms. Magazine at the time, and I wrote a piece called, "Why Did the Balinese Chicken Cross the Road?" And at the time, I thought it was to help me with my vegetarianism, but over time, I realized it was because I needed to renew a connection that I had had with chickens as a child...

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11:08:42
Now, what...

WALKER

11:08:42
...when we raised them.

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11:08:44
...what kind of connection -- tell us a little more about your childhood experiences with chickens.

WALKER

11:08:48
Well, I grew up on a farm and we were 10 in our family, so we had to rely on animals as part of our diet and so we raised them as well as, you know, the grains and plants. And I think one of the things that I had blocked from my mind was that by the time I was nine, I had inherited the task of ringing the neck of the chicken that we ate for dinner on Sunday. And knowing myself now, because, you know, as you grow older, you get to know yourself really well, hopefully. I can imagine that this was very traumatic for me to kill anything that I loved.

WALKER

11:09:42
And so I had blotted it out and also, I was injured myself when I was child. One of my brothers shot me in the eye and at the same time, this was during that same period of having to ring the neck of the chicken. And so I think those two things came together in a way that made me identify with the chicken and also with the expression, running around like a chicken with your head cut off, because that is what happens to injured children often. I mean, maybe not every one of them, but we go somewhere else. We go into a space that is so removed from where we are with the family that it is as if we are running around like a chicken with his head cut off.

WALKER

11:10:25
So that was basically where my experience with this chicken in Bali was trying to lead me. It was trying to take me back to reconnect with that experience and therefore, with a deeper understanding of my spiritual and, you know, almost visceral life and connection to the world.

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11:10:46
Your relationship with these chickens, your chickens today, is not the same relationship you had with chickens in your child in that you're not raising them to eat them. Your attitude toward them is really very maternal.

WALKER

11:10:59
My attitude toward my chickens is entirely maternal. When I'm away from them, I write to them (laugh). I believe that the world is magical and I believe that if we can feel that and get into that with whoever's around us and whatever's around us, then we make it just super joyous. So my relationship with them is one of great love and warmth and even though I understand perfectly that they don't care. I mean, you know, they are happy if I'm there and cuddling them and they're on my lap and they're eating good food and I have a garden planted right around their little condo.

WALKER

11:11:45
You know, they're chickens and so how they see me is, you know, up to them, but how I see them is so wonderful for me because I can appreciate that they are creatures who belong here, you know, on this planet, not just for our dinner, but to have lives, which they do.

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11:12:01
I would like you to read perhaps a passage from your book to give our listeners just a taste of how you write about (unintelligible).

WALKER

11:12:11
What I'm saying, yes. Well, this is writing to them from another country, so it says -- the song is called the "Song Behind the World, the Nuns of Dharamsala," because during the period, I was traveling a lot. "Girls, today Mommy is planting okra in another country. As she presses the soil around the seedlings, she is reminded of many things, of you and how you would eat the seeds and the seedlings if given the chance and of my trip to Dharamsala to visit his holiness, the Dalai Lama. The waiting and conversing rooms in the Dalai Lama's palace are very nice and spacious, not fancy. And the palace is built on a hill.

WALKER

11:12:53
It is across from a temple with many sculptures of the Buddha. Mommy thinks it should be called his house and not his palace because palace always makes Mommy think of Feudalism, a condition to which she has no intention of returning. After a warm and cheerful visit with him, which Mommy and Daddy and our friend, Adebake (sp?), enjoyed very much. We were taken down the hill to visit nuns who live on a very different part of Dharamsala. They live in the flatlands.

WALKER

11:13:28
Mommy was doing her usual thing of thinking, 'oh, why are the women way down here, hidden from view, etc.' The road down the hill was a long one, followed by a road to the convent that was fairly rough. But then, just at the end of this road, there stood the most exquisite monastery, large spacious, airy with wonderful slate roofs at different levels and cherry trees just beginning to bud. Inside, in addition to dormitory space, there was a library and classrooms. From the back windows of the library, Mommy leaned into the beauty," excuse me, "of lush and ample grounds with gardens, irrigated by what appeared to be a solar powered water system.

WALKER

11:14:18
Behind all this rose the majestic Himalayas. It was breathtaking. The soul of woman, the spirit of woman could find peace here. Mommy was sure of it and so happy to have her cynicism squashed. Through the beautiful but empty hallways and rooms we went until we were led to a huge door, from behind which came a faint hum. Our guide gently opened this door, which liberated a tidal wave of sound. There before us were hundreds of nuns in dark red and okra robes, seated at desks on the floor, chanting an ancient prayer. The sound of these nuns praying was like a billion bees buzzing. And best of all, they were not even attempting to pray in unison, but were chanting wherever they were on the page, which meant a dissonance that brought life and spontaneity to the words, an urgency to the prayer.

WALKER

11:15:22
It was so powerful and unexpected, it nearly floored Mommy. In fact, Mommy sat right down among the nuns and let herself be bathed in the sound of what felt like an ocean of prayer. If she could've lain down without offending anyone, she would have. She could've stayed there forever. She never wanted to leave. She wanted to come back to you, though, even so. Mommy had this realization that behind the world, always, there is a song, that behind every country's leadership and every country's citizenry, there is a song. Behind Tibet, behind the spiritual country, the Dalai Lama and Professor Rimpache (sp?) and the Tibetan government in exile have formed, there is the song of the nuns, which is the song of the feminine.

WALKER

11:16:20
Without this song, there is no movement, no progress. It is the song that keeps it all going, though we may hear it infrequently or only by accident. For millennia and to our detriment, it has been deliberately drowned out, but it is there nonetheless. Mommy was ecstatic to hear it. It is the same with you and with the other animals of the planet. You are the song behind the world human animal inhabit. Ahh. This is the vocal song you sing as chickens, but each animal has its song in its very being. We are our songs embodied. It is the song of all of us that keeps our planet balanced. What about extinction of any singer? What about missing or mangled notes?"

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11:17:21
Alice Walker reading from her new book, "The Chicken Chronicles." It has quite the subtitle, "Sitting With the Angels Who Have Returned With My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, The Gladyses and Babe: A Memoir (laugh).

WALKER

11:17:38
Yeah, it turned into a memoir. I didn't know that while I was writing it. And then one day, it really occurred to me, that, oh, this is about retrieval of memory.

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11:17:46
And when you write the letters to your chickens, are they read to them? Do you send them to them and they hear them?

WALKER

11:17:53
You know, you communicate with the other animals differently, so I know they can't read, they can't read, you know, our writing, anyway. Although I have been said that my writing is like chicken scratch. So I send them vibrationally and I send it as my love and hope that in this magical realm, you know, of our planet, things happen that we can't know.

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11:18:16
And yet you're also writing for your human readers.

WALKER

11:18:19
Very much so because I think it's so important for us to understand what we're eating and my thought of it, who we're eating, you know, because if you're thinking of other beings as having consciousness, you're thinking about something other than just your dinner, you know.

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11:18:36
We're talking with Alice Walker. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll go to the phones. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850, give us a call or send us an e-mail at drshow@wamu.org.

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11:20:03
Welcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With us in the studio this hour, Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet and activist. We're talking about her new book, it's called, "The Chicken Chronicles." Now, just before the break, Alice Walker, you said that this had affected -- raising these chickens had affected your decisions about what you should eat, your relationship with food. Tell us about that.

WALKER

11:20:30
Yes. And it's not as if I'm saying that everybody has to rush out and become a vegetarian or a vegan, either, and that I don't ever eat chicken. It's just that I think it's terrible that our children eat so much chicken, for instance, without having a clue of what the chicken itself is. And therefore, no ability to appreciate what it is that they're eating and what the creature's life was. I think very much that if we bring up our children to think of other creatures as beings who have feelings and who have attitudes and who have, you know, themselves, it would be harder for them to just mindlessly munch them, you know, to the tune of a million chickens an hour in our country.

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11:21:17
But I'm a little surprised, I guess, to hear that you do still eat chicken...

WALKER

11:21:20
Yes.

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11:21:21
...given your close relationship with your flock.

WALKER

11:21:23
I know, I know. It's a contradiction and I have been a vegan and I've been a vegetarian, but from time to time, I do eat chicken. I grew up on chicken and I accept that. And I think what I'm more interested in advancing is the idea of compassion for whatever it is you're eating, for the plants, too, you know, and for the farm workers. In other words, this is about really a sense of reverence and love for what we're given and what we take actually to sustain ourselves.

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11:22:00
You mentioned earlier that you keep a vegetable garden that's out near where the chickens live, too. How much of your own food to you end up growing?

WALKER

11:22:10
Well, I grow collard greens all the time. And because I've learned to make smoothies out of them, it means that I have them almost every day. The winter months, as you can imagine, are hard to grow things, so it's not a whole lot. You know, I grow as much as I can. I grow lots of greens, but I don't -- you know, I no longer really farm.

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11:22:33
So you name your chickens in your subtitle and in the book you say they are beautiful and describe their personalities. Tell us a little about a couple of your chickens.

WALKER

11:22:44
Well, actually Rufus and Agnes of God, I thought were roosters because they have such attitudes and they were so domineering. And one of the funniest things was one day I came down and I was, you know, thinking of them as roosters and one of them went into the chicken house and got on the nest. And I was thinking, well, why are you in there? You trying to be warm or something? And low and behold, Rufus, it was, I went over after Rufus got up and there was this wonderful warm egg. And that's when I knew that Rufus, who was so attitudinal, was actually a hen. And the same was true of Agnes of God. Those are the two Barred Rocks. They're black and white.

WALKER

11:23:27
And then there are the Ameraucanas, who I'd never heard of, and they're just incredible. You know, the artist Aubrey Beardsley? His designs I'm sure were influenced by seeing these chickens' feathers because they're extraordinarily beautiful and they come in these oranges and golds and blacks and reds. And they lay blue and green eggs, which I had no clue could even exist. They're especially loving. They do like to lie in my lap and I like to cuddle them.

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11:24:08
You don't kill your chickens for food, but you have had deaths in your henhouse.

WALKER

11:24:15
Yes.

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11:24:16
Your chicken, Babe, a very traumatic death.

WALKER

11:24:17
Yes. Well, a few of them have died. We have a lot of predators where I live because we live very far in the countryside. And Glorious -- the death of Glorious was very hard because she died the same week that Michael Jackson died. And I was sitting there with her and thinking everything was fine. And I went up the hill to turn off a burner I had left going on the stove and when I came back, she was gone. And what had happened is that a hawk had just swooped down and gone off with her.

WALKER

11:24:53
And this taught me, though, in her case, as with Michael Jackson, that freedom is such a risk and loving anything is a risk. And you cannot be there. Mommies cannot be there either to protect chickens or to protect Michael Jackson, you know, or all the people who need protection in this world. And that nature has its ways, even though sometimes we're devastated by them.

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11:25:20
In the middle of the book, in fact, you have a poem for Michael Jackson.

WALKER

11:25:24
Yes.

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11:25:24
Was he important to you?

WALKER

11:25:26
Oh, Michael Jackson is very important to the world because we see this -- we see what can happen to genius and a giving heart when it is met by people who just are brought up to consume whatever is put before them. So in a sense, he becomes like a chicken, you know, that people just mindlessly consume until they consume him completely. And he loses a sense of who he is and what he's here to do and he becomes this, you know, piece of, you know, something that people can basically, you know, eat themselves, you know, consume.

WALKER

11:26:07
So I think that what I want people to understand about that is that Michael is -- he was someone who was trying very hard to present what we seem to want and not what he was in himself, which -- you know, which was beautiful. I mean, there was no reason for him to whittle away any part of himself. There was no need for him to change any part of himself. But because we were in our consumption mode, you know, just wanting basically dinner (laugh), he tried to comply and I think that that is part of why we lost him.

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11:26:46
We're going to go to the phones and invite some of our listeners to join our conversation. We're going to start with Gary, who's calling us from Englewood, Fla. and we'll take other calls. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Gary, hi, you're on the air.

GARY

11:27:03
Well, hello. Thank you for taking my call and I hope you ladies are having a good morning. I'd like to share with your guest. The first time I raised chickens, and that's from chicks, it was about in the mid '70s. And I found out really quickly what wonderful creatures they were. Now, I was fortunate that I was caretaking a small ranch, a half a section and so we had two fence lines. And the chickens could run free range with a good eye out for coyotes and hawks and whatever, but they ate an amazing amount of insects.

GARY

11:27:42
And then in the hard times in the winter -- this was outside of Flagstaff, which is about 7,000 feet, they were in a good chicken house that was -- the water was warm, the beds under their roosts were very clean with alfalfa hay for compost. And the eggs were out of this world. They were healthy and I did cull, them, so we ate a lot of chicken. And if anybody has done this, it's just almost a humble experience. The -- not the killing, but the food. The heart was big, the liver was bright, dark and firm. The meat, you could cut with a fork and it changed my whole life as far as eating of animals. I do eat meat, but I've never -- since that experience and others like it with chickens, I do think of the animal that I eat in reverence.

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11:28:44
All right, Gary. Thanks so much for your call. Alice Walker.

WALKER

11:28:47
Thank you for your call, yeah.

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11:28:51
All right. Let's talk to Brian. Brian's calling us from Grand Rapids, Mich. Brian, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."

BRIAN

11:28:57
Good morning, ladies. My comment was if the author, Alice would comment on the different sounds chickens make in different nationalities. 'Cause here we kinda say cock-a-doodle-doo and in Germany it's keek-a-deekee. And over in Asia, it's even something different. I wonder if she could comment on that.

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11:29:22
All right. I guess everyone trying to replicate the sounds they hear from a chicken. Is it different in different parts of the world?

WALKER

11:29:27
I don't know. I'm only familiar with my chickens. When I travel, though, to, for instance, India, I try to find out where the chickens are. And I was so -- I was recently in Kerala and for two whole days, we were traveling looking for chickens and couldn't find any. And I was very sad because I thought, well, where are they? We saw a lot of goats. And then one day, way out in the water in Kerala on these little islands by the rice paddies, we started to see them freely. I mean, they were actually roaming. They weren't in cages and that was wonderful for me.

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11:30:05
You write about your thoughts on Gandhi in this book.

WALKER

11:30:10
Yes. Well, part of, you know, this journey is about not eating so much meat or meat and I was -- you know, he's a wonderful guide on that because he was brought up not to eat any. And yet when he was in England while studying, he did eat meat twice. And both times, his mother found out and she was very upset. I mean, it's a fascinating thing to think of Gandhi's mom being so upset because he had an experiment with meat. And then his last time of eating lamb, he couldn't sleep because they just came and they bleated. He said the lamb bleated all the way down his body while he was trying to, you know, eat it.

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11:30:59
You know, you write that the chicken house smells sweet. That might be a surprise to some people who would think a chicken house might smell not sweet.

WALKER

11:31:07
It's a matter of what you put in it. I mean, the caller before who was saying alfalfa hay. That's really good to put in. And, you know, my place for them is like a little condo, actually and -- I mean, it's a chicken house, but, you know, it's wonderful. It's built out of really fresh good lumber and it has a concrete floor, is very clean. They have a heater, they have -- you know, the sun can come in. They have plenty of space.

WALKER

11:31:37
I think if people realized how chickens generally, the ones that they eat, are raised, they would be sickened and they wouldn't be able to eat them. Because they're just crowded into spaces that are way too small. They're forced to -- you know, to live in conditions that are really unlivable in. So my chickens don't have that. You know, I'm very -- I'm as concerned about them in how they live as I am about how I live. I mean, they have everything that they need as chickens.

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11:32:09
And do your chickens have treats?

WALKER

11:32:12
Oh, they have treats all the time, yeah. And...

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11:32:14
What a treat for a chicken?

WALKER

11:32:15
What the treat? Well, corn on the cob, which I like to give to them chilled in the summer, because they really like that. They like persimmons. They like figs -- well, they actually don't like figs that much. We had a little disagreement about that because for some reason they don't really like figs and I like figs, they like watermelon, they like bananas, they like -- you know, and I grow these incredible beds of kale and collards, because I like them and I share them with the chickens. And, you know, they love all of that stuff.

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11:32:55
I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're talking with Alice Walker and we're taking your calls at 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Jeff. He's calling us from Alexandria, Va. Jeff, thanks for holding on.

JEFF

11:33:11
Oh, thank you, ma'am, for taking my call. I love chickens, too. I grew up on a farm and I have a lot of great memories about chickens. But what I'm calling about is not actually about chickens, Ms. Walker, and it's not about your wonderful book, either. It's about collard smoothies.

JEFF

11:33:32
That really intrigued me and I wonder (unintelligible) don't mind breaking into the other subject and tell me how you make them.

WALKER

11:33:38
Oh, I would be so happy to teach you how to make this because you will love this. If you like collard greens you will love this.

JEFF

11:33:46
I love them.

WALKER

11:33:47
And it is so good for you. Okay. So go out in the garden, you pick two or three leaves of wonderful strong collard greens. You get a Vita-Mix, you know, blender thing.

JEFF

11:33:57
Get what, ma'am?

WALKER

11:33:59
A Vita-Mix. It's called a Vita-Mix. It's not like a regular blender, it's one where everything that goes in there gets really smoothed out so you drink everything. You know, nothing is separated.

JEFF

11:34:10
All right.

WALKER

11:34:10
Okay. Vita-Mix V-I-T-A-M-I-X. So you put the collard greens in the Vita-Mix. You add an apple, an orange and anything else you want, but actually, that's enough. Put in some, you know, good water.

JEFF

11:34:24
You're talking about orange, a peeled orange, I assume.

WALKER

11:34:27
No, no, no. I said apple. But if you want orange, you can have orange. But...

JEFF

11:34:31
All right. Oh, I thought you meant an apple and an orange. All right. I got the greens and an apple.

WALKER

11:34:37
And a banana.

JEFF

11:34:38
Oh, and a banana, all right.

WALKER

11:34:40
Okay. And add water and blend that and drink it. And if you do that every day or whenever you can it will actually -- 'cause it's full of vitamin A, it's full of vitamin C and it's full of calcium, so it's very good for your bones, it's very good for your skin.

WALKER

11:34:58
All right.

JEFF

11:34:58
And these are raw collard greens.

WALKER

11:35:00
Raw, raw, raw. They have to be raw. And you'll be amazed at how delicious this is.

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11:35:05
So I would be amazed, I've got to tell you, if this is delicious, but I'll take your word for it. Jeff, are you going to give this a try (laugh) ?

JEFF

11:35:10
I will give it a try. I mean...

WALKER

11:35:11
Good, Jeff.

JEFF

11:35:13
Yes, ma'am, I'll give it a try and thank you very much. And again, it's a fascinating conversation you're all having about chickens.

WALKER

11:35:19
Oh, good.

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11:35:20
All right. Jeff, thanks very much for your call. Let's go to Julie who's calling us from Tallahassee, Fla. Hi, Julie.

JULIE

11:35:30
Hi, how are you?

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11:35:31
Good.

JULIE

11:35:32
I'm so glad you put me on the air. I'm actually out at my vegetable garden watering it right now as we speak. I keep chickens. I got them about six months ago. I was inspired by a few books that I read about urban farming. I live in a suburban neighborhood. I've never lived on a farm. I knew nothing about farming whatsoever, but I loved what they wrote about, you know, growing your own food and being responsible for the food that you eat. And as part of this process, I felt -- I love to cook and I do eat meat, I've never been a vegetarian. But I wanted to know what went into my food. I became more interested and then after also reading Michael Pollan's books and whatnot.

JULIE

11:36:10
So I volunteered at a farm to help process some chickens one day. It was an organic farm and they use the cones, you know, to process the chickens. And I didn't know if the procedure would make me want to become a vegetarian or not. I didn't know how I'd feel about it. But afterwards, I was kind of surprised and a little relieved to find that I was still okay with eating meat as long as it was raised humanely.

WALKER

11:36:33
Yes.

JULIE

11:36:34
And dispatched humanely. And I know that these birds were. They free range, they eat bugs, they enjoy the sunshine, you know. And it was -- they had a happy life and they were humanely put down. And it's also caused me to not waste food anymore. Now, when I buy chicken, it is always free range organic chicken. Not only do I eat all the meat, but I use the carcass for stuff. I don't waste any of it because...

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11:37:02
All right. Yeah.

JULIE

11:37:03
...I don't want that life to go to waste.

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11:37:05
All right, Julie. Thanks so much for your call.

WALKER

11:37:07
And Julie, I thank you, too, because that's perfect. That is the work, you know, to try to understand, you know, what it is we're eating and what their life is like and also to care about how they're treated and how they leave this world.

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11:37:23
We're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll talk with Alice Walker about her seminal book, "The Color Purple" and how her relationship with that book may have changed over the years since it was published and we'll take your calls and questions. Stay with us.

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11:40:03
Welcome back. I'm Susan Page of "USA Today," sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking with Alice Walker this hour about her new book. It's titled "The Chicken Chronicles." Here's a tweet from BallerniaX. She posts, "Did you know that one of the latest trends in earning money is by chicken sitting? I've used one myself." Now, do you use a chicken sitter when you're out of town?

WALKER

11:40:23
No, I don't have a chicken sitter but I work with my neighbors.

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11:40:28
Now, Ryan has posted a question on our Facebook. Ryan says, "I was wondering what Ms. Walker thinks of both the film and musical adaptations of her novel, "The Color Purple?" She is both a literary and spiritual inspiration. What do you think? You wrote the book, "The Color Purple," won the Pulitzer Prize. It's been made into a movie, musical, adapted. Does that change your relationship to the book that you initially wrote?

WALKER

11:40:54
No, I think, I see them very separately, and I'm just so happy that people get a lot of medicine, good medicine from them. I meet people all the time who have read the book, seen the musical or the movie and they just seem to be such happy well-balanced people. I feel that I've had a little bit of a part in that, you know, in making them happier, and that's just delicious.

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11:41:20
Let's go to Damien calling us from Elkhart, Ind. Damien, hi, you're on the air.

DAMIEN

11:41:27
Hi, thank you so much for taking my call. Your speaker here, she talks about the magic that's in the world and I absolutely agree with that. This is magical that this show's on today. My wife and I were out to dinner, enjoying a rather delicious cheeseburger, actually, a couple months ago, and I'd said that, just sort of candidly said that if I couldn't just go to the store and buy a piece of meat, I probably wouldn't eat meat, because I don't raise any meat and I don't have a clue how to raise any meat.

DAMIEN

11:41:53
And that was -- to me it was sort of, you know, a revelation. It's really a pathetic commentary on our culture, that we just are so disconnected from the land and from nature around us that we just depend on going to the grocery store and buying a piece of meat.

DAMIEN

11:42:06
So I told her, actually at that time, that I thought I should start raising chickens and she sort of, you know, she was like, chickens, gross. But I think I've almost got her convinced that I should start raising chickens. Is there anything, I mean, really just from scratch, a boy who knows nothing about it, is there any advice that you would offer?

WALKER

11:42:23
I would. I would say get a really good chicken book, you know, about how to raise chickens. There are a lot of them out there and build a nice place for them where you can see them every day, and I think you'll be amazed, you will just be absolutely astonished by them.

DAMIEN

11:42:40
Yeah, yeah. I jokingly tell people that I'm actually a closet Hindu and there's a little vegetarian clawing his way out of me. But someday I'll probably be a vegetarian, but I think I'll give raising my own meat a try first.

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11:42:52
Damien, thanks so much for your call.

DAMIEN

11:42:54
Thank you so much.

PAGE

11:42:55
Here's a question post on Facebook from Jim. He writes, "Is she aware that you can use positive reinforcement training on chickens? A common technique with dogs, Bob Bailey, a contemporary of Skinner, teaches people to train chickens to perform common dog obedience tricks. And if one needs proof, all you have to do is go to YouTube and do a search on clicker training chickens." Have you seen that?

WALKER

11:43:19
No, and I don't want to train them. I like them wild because what I find is that in their own way, they give me everything that, you know, that I need from them, you know, which is just affection and curiosity and they like to peck at my glasses and my earrings and sit on my lap and, you know, and sing. What more could I want?

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11:43:40
Now, you collect their eggs?

WALKER

11:43:41
Mm-hmm.

PAGE

11:43:42
Now, there was a time, I think, I read in your book that they were battling the idea that you were going to collect their eggs. What happened?

WALKER

11:43:49
In the beginning, they didn't know what I was doing in there. They'd see me collecting the eggs and they, like, you know, why is she doing that and what are these weird things that we've laid in there anyhow? And then eventually they had an attitude about my taking them and they started to eat them themselves and there was a whole little rebellion.

WALKER

11:44:07
Which was led by a bluebird that got into, that came into the chicken house and pecked eggs open and taught the chickens how to eat them. So we had to then go through a long process of getting the eggs before the bluebird and before the other chickens started, you know, making it a habit.

PAGE

11:44:25
So have you come to a resolution of this situation now?

WALKER

11:44:28
Well, early gathering.

PAGE

11:44:33
Let's talk to Christine. She's calling us from Long Island. Christine, hi, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."

CHRISTINE

11:44:39
Hi, thanks so much for taking my call. I just wanted to thank Alice Walker for "The Color Purple" and to let her know that I was lucky to read it at a time in my life where I really needed to. I was about 11 years old and I was beginning to understand my place in the world and it was immensely helpful to me.

CHRISTINE

11:45:02
It was a very difficult time and it profoundly helped me at that time. And I just, I've read many of her books and she's somebody that I hold very close to my heart and I thank her for her work.

WALKER

11:45:16
And I can hear the beauty of you in your voice.

PAGE

11:45:19
Christine, thank you so much for giving us a call.

CHRISTINE

11:45:22
You're welcome. Thanks for taking it. Bye-bye.

PAGE

11:45:25
Bye-bye. Now, there's a phrase that you write about in your book and I think, you say it means a lot to you. The phrase is, "Everything that rises must converge." What do you like about that?

WALKER

11:45:36
Well, I like the idea that no matter where we are, if we are struggling to come to our own highest being, someone else is also doing that somewhere and eventually we will all converge, we will all come together. And I see that all over the world.

WALKER

11:45:52
You know, whenever I travel now it is such a delight to find myself always with my own tribe, and we may not speak the same language or anything, but we have the same feelings about loving the planet, wanting to connect with the animals and be here for them, you know, to sort of interpret them to other humans in a way that means less suffering for them.

WALKER

11:46:18
And so we just naturally do that. This is something I think that's planetary and human, to rise together in this way. It's like consciousness and that is what's happening on the planet.

PAGE

11:46:30
Let's talk to Valerie. She's joining us from Chestertown, Md. Hi, Valerie.

VALERIE

11:46:35
Good morning. I am a fairly new chicken owner. I got chicks last June and I would sit for hours in their coop, holding them and scratching them on their chests and under their chins. They're almost a year old now and I, every time I approach the coop, I would always say, "Hey my babies, hey my babies."

VALERIE

11:46:58
They'd come running and now they'll run up to me when I call them and they'll throw their chests up and I scratch them and they will sit on my lap and eat spaghetti from my plate and they are, they feel like family and they give me beautiful eggs every morning and I give them as gifts and I have loved, I have never raised chickens before. This was just something that I started doing this past year and it has been so satisfying. I love it.

PAGE

11:47:31
Now, Valerie, what prompted you to get into the chicken business?

VALERIE

11:47:35
Well, the idea, you know, we bought a little estate that, you know, has orchards and we have rescued donkeys and the idea was to have our own eggs and to be closer to the earth, you know, be closer to the animals in our lives and it has been joyous.

PAGE

11:47:58
All right. Well, thanks so much for your call.

WALKER

11:48:00
Thank you. That sounds wonderful.

VALERIE

11:48:03
Certainly.

PAGE

11:48:04
Let's go to Heather, calling from us Ellicott City, Md. Heather, you're on the air.

HEATHER

11:48:09
Hello, my name's Heather Samansky (sp?) I'm executive director of a place called The Green Building Institute, and we were just out on lunch on Friday with some of our architects talking about raising chickens and organic farming, because we're very into permaculture and integrating organic farming and permaculture, and it's been very difficult to convince communities like, you know, say D.C. on zoning regulations on how you do this.

HEATHER

11:48:33
So I was wondering if you had any ideas on, perhaps, how to convince people on a larger scale and thank you so much, Alice Walker, you've influenced my life in many ways and I never thought I'd be calling and talking to you for the first time about chickens, but I'm so happy.

PAGE

11:48:46
Well, Heather, do a lot of jurisdictions prohibit chickens?

HEATHER

11:48:50
Well, it's the municipalities and the zoning and such that there are people very interested in doing it, but it's helping, like how, we're trying to educate our politicians on how important this is and how it can be done on a larger scale. I'm definitely going to use your book to people on board, but I was just wondering in terms of influencing hearts and minds, if you had any grand advice there?

PAGE

11:49:12
All right, Heather, thanks for your call.

WALKER

11:49:14
I don't really have, beyond this book, I don't know, I mean, but part of the reason for this book is to open the space in the minds of people so that they can start to chickens as well as other animals as beings, you know, deserving of respect and consideration.

PAGE

11:49:29
We've got an email from Glenn. He writes us from San Juan, Puerto Rico and he'd like to talk about cats. He says, "I take care of over a 100 feral and stray cats on the streets of Puerto Rico, seven days a week, doing spay and neutering and also feeding them."

PAGE

11:49:44
"I'm also a very active animal activist. I've been very inspired in work by some of your animal-related writings, including your essay, "The Universe Responds." And I was wondering if you still have your cat, Freda, and can you please say something about your views on cats? The inner lives of cats and the connections between humans and cats?"

WALKER

11:50:02
Yes, I think that cats are the original kings and queens and that is where that whole idea came to humans, because they watched cats, who are always very much themselves, very self-possessed, will not change their ways really and really don't care what you think, and why don't you just get their food and find them a really nice place to be in the sun and, you know, stop bothering them.

WALKER

11:50:28
So I love cats, I love that feeling of independence and regalness, you know? Freda died after many long years of actually being, she'd been thrown out by someone before I found her. I fell in love with her because she was beautiful, but in fact, she was shattered in some really bad way and never outgrew her tendency to hide in the closet when I had guests.

WALKER

11:50:58
But the cat that I have now, whose name is Surprise, is the perfect cat for me. I mean, she's affectionate, she's, you know, loving to the extent that cats want to do that, and she has all of these queenly qualities that I so admire.

PAGE

11:51:14
Now, does Surprise the cat get along with your flock of chickens?

WALKER

11:51:18
We don't know, because I haven't taken her to the chicken coop, but the dog, Miles, is very at home there and they seem, he and the chickens seem fine.

PAGE

11:51:28
All right. Let's go to Tom, he's been holding on for a while. He's calling us from Millfield, Ohio. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM

11:51:36
Good morning. So many fine observations. I have a humane way, well I don't know if it's humane, but it's most humane of the unpleasant task of killing chickens. If you cover their heads in the daytime and you take off the light, the chickens become comatose, and I take a sock and I put it over the head of the chicken and I lay it down on its side, even with its feet off the ground.

TOM

11:52:11
And I stroke its head very gently and the neck relaxes and stretches out and I have the sock folded so that the neck will stretch out below the sock and then I take a very sharp edge and make sure that it's just one swipe and that's it.

PAGE

11:52:34
All right, Tom.

WALKER

11:52:35
I thank you so much for this. I think this is what we need to share with each other because people don't know how to be compassionate. They know they need to eat, but they don't know how to be compassionate with what they're about to eat.

WALKER

11:52:45
I mean, that's the crux of the matter and what you're offering is precious. It's like that scene in "Cold Mountain" where the woman kills a goat. You know, she does what you did. She has, she's raised these goats, you know, with great care and love, and then she has to kill one because there's nothing else to eat and there's a soldier there who's dying.

WALKER

11:53:04
So she has the goat's head on her lap and she strokes it and she talks to it as she has stroked and talked to it the whole time of its life, and then she kills it and then they, she and the dying soldier, you know, have something to eat. I mean, there is a way to do it.

WALKER

11:53:20
There is a way that we must learn and, you know, people have known how to do this before. In my family, we did not kill things, well except for the wringing of the neck, but, you know, there was a consciousness about, for instance, killing the yearly bull we had to eat. So I really appreciate what you said very, very much.

PAGE

11:53:41
Thank you Tom. I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've been taking your calls at 1-800-433-8850 and reading your emails, drshow@wamu.org. You know, we're coming toward the end of this hour, and you refer to the chickens almost as if they were your children. You refer to yourself with them as momma. I know you have a daughter, Rebecca, with whom you've had a strained relationship. Is that still the case?

WALKER

11:54:08
Yes, yes, but that has nothing to do with my chicken love. This is more in the sense of Amma, you know, the hugging saint of India, who says that true motherhood means that all creatures are your children. That's true motherhood, and she defines that as divine love and as God.

WALKER

11:54:27
So that is where I'm coming from, that in a sense, all the creatures, if you’re a mother, you're a mother of everything. You're not just a mother of your children. So even though Rebecca is my biological daughter, you know, she's just one of many beings that I claim as, you know, my children.

PAGE

11:54:46
I think having a child does make you feel more responsible for everything else in the world, certainly for all the other children in your world. That was certainly the case with me. Did you find that as well?

WALKER

11:54:59
Well, yes and no. I mean, my way of being is inherited. I mean, I come from a culture where the mother of the village or the mother of the house totally got it that she was responsible for all the children in the community. My mother was responsible, not just for her eight children, but for every child in the community and this went on until she was an old woman.

WALKER

11:55:20
You know, to the end of her life, I would go back from college or, you know, my own life, visit her and there she would be, surrounded by even more children than she'd given birth to, and she was teaching them Bible studies, she was teaching them singing, she was teaching them how to sew. And, you know, that's what it means to be a mother.

WALKER

11:55:38
You're a mother of everything. You're not just a mother of your children, and the selfishness in the small view, you know, that you're just the mother of the two or three that you have, that's why we're in such a desperate situation because you don't care about other people.

PAGE

11:55:54
And you write that actually having these chickens has connected you back to your mother, your childhood, in this thought?

WALKER

11:56:03
Yes, and it's like Proust, you know, Proust who ate the Madeleine cookie, you know, in France, you know, and suddenly he remembered, you know, what he had forgotten, and that's because things like, you know, some scenes, some sites like the chickens, some smells, some textures take us back and my thing is to say to people, let yourself be taken.

WALKER

11:56:26
Don't block it out, don't say, gosh, I dreamed about, you know, chickens last night, but I'm sure that didn't have anything to do with anything. Well, it might have something to do with everything.

PAGE

11:56:36
Alice Walker, thank you so much for joining us this hour. Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, poet and activist talking with us this hour about "The Chicken Chronicles." Thanks so much for being with us.

WALKER

11:56:47
Thank you so much.

PAGE

11:56:48
I'm Susan Page of "USA Today," filling for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER

11:57:03
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ANNOUNCER

11:57:27
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