My feminist icon: Yrsa Daley-Ward on why Alice Walker inspires her the most

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Stylist is running its first ever feminist advent calendar in 2018, with a remarkable woman revealing who her feminist icon is every day until 25 December. Here, Yrsa Daley-Ward reveals why Alice Walker is her ultimate feminist icon.

Alice Walker was the first woman that I came across who was writing about issues that she was vilified for writing about: what it was like to be a black woman in America at a time when people weren’t representing them.

The Colour Purple is a shining example of this. Alice got a lot of negative press for writing about domestic abuse, and she also wrote about sensuality between two women.

When I was about 14 and came to her work – on reading The Colour Purple for the first time – my eyes were opened, and she was an inspiration to me. We didn’t read it at school, I came to it in a bookshop. I picked it up and knew nothing about it. As you do with your favourite author, you then buy everything they’ve written.

Yrsa Daley-Ward

“I went to see her at Southbank Centre a few years ago and it was one of the best nights of my life.”

I have a Collected Works, and in that is a section called In Love and Trouble, which is my favourite, just because of what she speaks about. It is a mix between stories about all these women who vary but are bound together by their emotions.

I have written all my life. I just loved the way you could tap into someone else’s emotions. Reading Alice Walker shaped my writing because she taught me you can write about things you think you might not say usually.

I recently reread The Third Life of Grange Copeland. I wanted to see how it had come together and the risks Alice took in writing it. There were members of the community that were critical of her [because of this book], saying she was portraying black men in a bad light.

I really admire the fearlessness of writing that [book] at the time. The only way you’re going to write something that means something is by being fearless.

I would encourage anyone who hasn’t read anything by Alice Walker to do so, because it’s transformative. It takes you to the place and you can see it and smell it. It doesn’t age. What she’s writing about then is relevant now.

I went to see her at Southbank Centre a few years ago and it was one of the best nights of my life. The things she was talking about were very personal, things that other writers won’t get up there and say. I like that she puts her face to what she’s doing.

Remarkable Women Awards 2019

philosophy are the official partner of Stylist’s Remarkable Women Awards 2018 and, for every day in December, Stylist is asking a remarkable woman to tell us who her feminist icon is, and why. You can see more inspiring and remarkable women here.

Yrsa Daley-Ward’s bone (Penguin, £9.99) and The Terrible (Penguin, £9.99) are out in paperback now.

As told to Sarah Shaffi

Images: Nicole Nodland, Kirill Koslov and Mike Kobal

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