Friday, March 30, 2007

Evolution of a Feminist Daughter

REBECCA WALKER — the daughter of Alice Walker, the author of “The Color Purple,” and Mel Leventhal, a civil rights lawyer — was a nascent feminist when she laid bare the details of her freewheeling, lonely adolescence in her 2001 book, “Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self.”

The memoir, like the 20-something Ms. Walker, was impassioned, poetic and occasionally messy. But it hit a nerve with many critics who considered it a poignant meditation on race and sex.

It also chronicled the author’s efforts to cope with being hot-potatoed from city to city in the wake of her parents’ divorce and what she perceived to be her mother’s ambivalence about her existence.

Left to her own devices by parents she thought were preoccupied with their careers, Rebecca Walker experimented with drugs, had sexual encounters with men and women, and had an abortion at 14.

But by the time she was an adult, she was writing about intergenerational feminism (her godmother is Gloria Steinem), and had helped found the Third Wave Foundation, a philanthropic group for women ages 15 to 30, becoming a symbol for young women who may not have considered themselves feminists.

Symbol though she was, Ms. Walker also cultivated a private life, and in her 20s was in a serious relationship with another woman.

Today, however, Ms. Walker, 37, has become what she called a new Rebecca, one who has a male partner, a child and some revised theories about the ties that bind, which she explores in a new book, “Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence” (Riverhead), to be released on Thursday. A review appears in The Times Book Review today.


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