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Triumphant Kindness in The Color Purple

Alice Walker’s The Color Purple has been with me so long that I do not know when in my young life I first read it. Nor do I recall when I read it again before watching the first movie. Celie’s story, and character, were carried by writing so deft it fell away, so penetrating that her overcoming spirit remains with me. Her kindness was a low flame Celie kept close, so abusive men (first Alphonso and then Mister) wouldn’t snuff it out. Through the novel, this kindness is a slow-burning power that draws women like Shug Avery and Sofia to her, as it strengthens and grows. 

In 2020, a novel idea arrived in my head, with an important character named Cecie. Then one day, when I was reading an article about banned books, someone in the comments lamented that people would not be able to access Celie’s story—and her heart. As soon as I saw her name again, I knew, deep down, somewhere in the swirling mists of influence, where Cecie’s name originated. 

Cecie’s name leapt to mind as fully formed as her character, an enslaved and literate woman of 1858, living on a plantation on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. She raised the novel’s first-person white narrator, Annabelle. They were educated together in secret by Annabelle’s Unitarian mother, who hailed from Rochester, New York. While the novel, and series, have themes like coming of age, marriage, books, art, publishing, and freedom, the most important is their complex relationship. 

Writers exist in conversation with each other, at times unconsciously. When mists lift, and we realize our influences, we have the chance to acknowledge them. I want to honor the deep force that is Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. When I realized how close the name Cecie is to Celie, the character who grabbed hold of me as a young reader, I knew. The two characters might live in different centuries and have unique circumstances, personalities, and obstacles. Still, they are the fictional Black women who have infused my imagination the most. Alice Walker built a foundation today’s readers rely on to perceive each other better, rooted in Celie’s triumphant kindness.

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