Rebecca Walker's Ade spans across oceans and deserts to reveal a tale of love and loss, but, it is Walker's sensual wordplay and personal connection to the story that portray the true expanse and depth of her craft.
Ade is Walker's first foray in to fiction. In the past, she has revealed some of the most intimate parts of her life in memoirs like Baby Love and Black, White and Jewish. In last year's Black Cool, Walker brought together a group of today's most talented storytellers to weave together revelations of the ubiquity of Black culture, proving that we are everywhere, all at once, and always, well, cool.
Recently, we chatted with Walker about her approach to her latest work and the rise of autobiographical fiction.
EBONY: What inspired you to write a fiction novel this time around?
Rebecca Walker: Ade is very autobiographical. It is centered around an experience I did have. I wanted to write a book that could reflect this profound experience and could also be a kind of gift to the person I fell in love with at that point in my life. So, the novel is an interpretation of this very powerful moment in my life, inspired by this person I wanted to give something back to who gave me so much.
At this point in my life, I don't really want to write about my family anymore. I want to give them that space. As a creative person, I'm constantly trying to create new worlds, to imagine and to expand my faculty within my craft. Right now I am enjoying learning the rules of the novel, growing as an artist and finding new ways to express myself. I am also working on screenplay, so this is a very exciting time in my life.
Ade is autobiographical fiction, which is certainly not new, but there is a kind of sub-genre rising now. There are a lot more autobiographical fiction writers who are connected with their protagonist. I am a part of that rise. I think this new genre is appearing because of the breach of trust between the reader and writer that occurred during the James Frye debacle. So now, we are figuring out ways to reestablish trust with our readers and still write honestly about ourselves. We are carving a new space. I think it's nascent, but growing.
EBONY: Why did you choose the continent of Africa as the setting for this novel?
It is always a great time to talk about Africa in ways that are not tragic. Africa is and has always been a cauldron of innovation and I'm excited by so much happening on the continent right now–from technology to fashion to movements for global justice. Also, we don't often see positive portrayals of Muslim men in our culture, and I wanted to shine a light on the kind of Muslim man that I met and fell in love with–kind, loving, respectful, generous. The Muslim man I fell in love with believes in the equality of men and women. In the book, Adé gives all the money he makes to his mother, he cooks and cleans and carves a bed for Farida, the woman he loves. In other words, he does things we as Westerners don't normally identify with African Muslim identity. If there is an element of activism in this book, it is there–showing another facet of the brilliant diamond that is African culture.
EBONY: What are some major themes that you find yourself grappling with as a writer?
RW: I think all of my writing, in one way or another, is an attempt to find a free space in which I can exist as a complex human being. I try to carve out the conventional limitations of nationhood, gender and race, and carve out a space in the literary narrative that is free of that, that is able to move in both understanding and defining those confines, but also has sovereignty of self at the same time. If you look at all of my work, I think that is the common thread that you'd find political realities mixed with very human aspirations.
EBONY: What elements create a love story for you, and what makes your character's love particularly gripping?
RW: That's something that I always ask my reader: ‘what worked for you?’ I think that these two people come from such different worlds and they manage to find each other and connect, even though they speak different languages- not just spoken languages, but cultural languages. There's a magic to that. Even though they have this profound love, they find that love cannot sustain them, and though it cannot remain the same way they hoped it would, love also cannot be defeated. In that way, I hope that Ade is something that speaks to ways in which we are all trying to love across various borders, whether they be border of ideologies, or borders that are much more disparate.