The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult: A Meditation on Life, Spirit, Art and the Making of the Film The Color Purple Ten Years Later

The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult: A Meditation on Life, Spirit, Art and the Making of the Film The Color Purple Ten Years Later

by Alice Walker


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In the early eighties, the peaceful, reclusive life of poet and writer Alice Walker was interrupted by the appearance of three extraordinary gifts: a widely praised best-selling novel ("The Color Purple"), the Pulitzer Prize, and an offer from Steven Spielberg to make her novel into a film that would become a major international event. This last gift, which Walker identifies as 'the knock at the door,' led her into the labyrinth of a never-before-experienced creative collaboration, principally with Spielberg and Quincy Jones, and the 'magic' and perils of moviemaking. "The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult" chronicles that period of transition, from recluse to public figure, and invites us to contemplate, along with her, the true significance of extraordinary gifts—especially when they are coupled, as in Walker's case, with the most severe criticism, overt hostility, and public censure from one's community of choice. The book is composed of entries from Walker's journals, correspondence—including letters to Spielberg, Jones, and Danny Glover, who played the much reviled Mister in the movie—and essays and articles that document the controversy in the African-American community upon the film's release. It also contains Walker's original screenplay for the film "The Color Purple," a screenplay that ultimately was not used by Spielberg and has never been published. In three new essays, Walker looks back at what was taking place in her life at that time: the onset of a debilitating illness, the failing health of her adored mother, and the betrayal by her companion of thirteen years. How do the private and the public mesh, she asks, during periods ofintense creativity and stress? In what ways do they support or weaken each other?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781568952987
Publisher: Cengage Gale
Publication date: 03/28/1996
Pages: 370
Product dimensions: 6.24(w) x 9.23(h) x 1.05(d)

About the Author


Mendocino, California

Date of Birth:

February 9, 1944

Place of Birth:

Eatonton, Georgia


B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1965; attended Spelman College, 1961-63

Reading Group Guide

1. Why might Walker have felt compelled to step into The Same River Twice, as her title implies? Why might it have been important for her to look back on her experience of The Color Purple? What do you get as a result? Is your conception of The Color Purple different now that you've read The Same River Twice? If so, how? Why might it be important to visit works more than once? How does time serve to alter our perceptions?

2. Compare and contrast Walker's book The Color Purple with the film. What are the similarities and differences between Walker's book and her own screenplay? How are Walker's screenplay and Meyjes' screenplay similar? How are they different?

3. When Walker first viewed the film, The Color Purple, in a huge theater with only two other people, "everything about it seemed wrong," she said. But at the premiere in New York, with a magic wand in hand, she watched the film in a packed theater and was able to say she loved the film. Why might her opinion of the film have changed so drastically? What effect might an audience have on one's perception of a film? Can one's perception of a novel change with different readings? If so, how and why might this be so? What might this say about perception and works of art?

4. How do you feel about the fact that a white dutchman wrote the screenplay which a white man directed based on a black woman's book? What might have made this possible? Do you think it made a difference in the film? How might the film have been different if a black woman had written the screenplay and directed the film?

5. One fan wrote: "For the first time in my 37 1/2 years, I sat in a fully integrated movietheater. And the 'integration was racial as well as in terms of class and age." Why might this have happened? What might have made this possible? What might it have been about Alice Walker's book The Color Purple which contributed to the accessibility of the film? Do you think the reaction would have been the same had a black woman written and directed the film? Might the presence of a Hollywood name such as Steven Spielberg's have made a difference in the composition of the audience? If so, how?

6. A great deal of controversy surrounded the film The Color Purple. Many of its detractors felt that it portrayed black men in a bad light and encouraged lesbianism between black women. What is your perception of Walker's portrayal of black men? How do you view the lesbian relationship between Shug and Celie in Walker's novel? How does Steven Spielberg handle these subjects in the film? Why might he have chosen this particular representation? Do you prefer the novel s treatment or the film's? How might you have represented these subjects?

7. Why was the book The Color Purple received with less public debate, in fact winning the Pulitzer Prize, while the film met with such hot controversy? Are films inherently more controversial than novels? If so, why might this be? What might this say about the relationship of our society to films and to novels?

8. The Color Purple received 11 Academy Award nominations, yet Out of Africa won Best Picture, the most coveted award. Why might this be considered ironic? What do you think of the Academy's choice? How might you have chosen?

9. In The Same River Twice, Walker writes, "It was painful to realize that many men rarely consider reading what women write, or bother to listen to what women are saying about how we feel. How we perceive life. How we think things should be. That they cannot honor our struggles or our pain. That they see our stories as meaningless to them, or assume they are absent from them, or distorted, or think they must own or control our expressions. And us." Do you agree with Walker's perception? Why might she feel that it is important for men to understand how women feel, how they perceive life? Why might she feel strongly that it is important for men to read women's work? What are your feelings about this?

10. Why might Walker have included the essay, "Holding on and Remembering," by Belvie Rooks? How might it have related to Walker's own relationship with her mother? What did it have to do with the themes of The Same River Twice? How did it contribute to the book as a whole?

11. Walker often prayed lying prostrate on the ground, in worship of the earth. On one such occasion, she was bitten by a tick and made quite ill. "My faith was battered by the betrayal," she writes. "And yet, as with a lover, what can one really absolutely trust? Only that she or he will be themselves. And that, I see, is how I must love the earth and nature and the Universe, my own Trinity. Trusting only that it will be however it is, and accepting that some parts of it may hurt." How do you feel about Walker's interpretation? What might your reaction be to a similar betrayal? How might you have reconciled such a happening? What vision of the world does this seem to suggest?

12. On the last page of her book, Walker asks the questions: "How does the heart keep beating? How does the spirit go on?" How might the writing of the book and the experience of making the film have given her an answer? What answers does she offer us?

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