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The Same River Twice


About The Book

Alice Walker explores the struggles she’s had with art, motherhood, illness, and relationships, as well as reveals details from the controversy in the making of the movie based on her book, The Color Purple.

The Same River Twice is a collection of work based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize­­­–winning novel, The Color Purple. The collection includes essays, journal entries, and the screenplay she never got to use. It covers topics such as art, motherhood, illness, and relationships. She also reveals her work with Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, Oprah Winfrey, and Whoopi Goldberg on the movie based on her book, and explores the controversy behind the movie surrounding Steven and Alice’s differing visions, and how it was received by critics. Behind the beautiful writing lies a vulnerability in self-doubt and worry in how the community will respond to her writing. The Same River Twice explores the complex experiences in her life and illuminates Walker as a woman, an artist, and healer.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Points
  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 movie theater. 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?
Recommended Readings
Silencing the Self, Dana Crowley Jack
Harper Perennial, 1993
Daughters of the Dust, Julie Dash, Toni C. Bambara, & bell hooks
The New Press, 1992
Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley
Pocket Books, 1990
Start Where You Are, Pema Chodron
Shambala, 1994
Having Our Say, Sarah L. Delany & Elizabeth A. Delany
Dell, 1994
Art On My Mind, bell hooks
The New Press, 1995
Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh
New Age Books, 1992
The Great Cosmic Mother, Barbara Mor & Monica Sjoo
Harper, San Francisco, 1987
Of Water and the Spirit, Malidoma Patrice Some
Penguin Books, 1995
Women, Race and Class, Angela Davis
Vintage, 1983
A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf
Harcourt Brace & Company, 1981
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Ernest Gaines
Bantam Books, 1987
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Plume Books, 1988
Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee
Fireside, 1989
The Piano, Jane Campion
Hyperion, 1993
The Women of Brewster Place, Gloria Naylor
Penguin Books, 1982
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Harper Perennial, 1990

About The Author

Photograph by Ana Elena Pena.

Alice Walker, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, is a canonical figure in American letters. She is the author of The Color Purple, The Temple of My Familiar, Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart, Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart, and many other works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Her writings have been translated into more than two dozen languages, and more than fifteen million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. 

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