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It?s been more than four decades since Alice Walker wedded a Jewish man to form what was then the first interracial married couple living in Mississippi.

The year was 1967 and ?we actually got married in New York, but the anti?miscegenation laws were against people being married in Mississippi, interracially,? Walker remembers. ?We were illegal and we were very happy about it.?

In 1983, the already prolific poet-novelist would turn heads again as the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Award, both for ?The Color Purple.?

These days, at 65 ? an age she?s christened ?the new 50? ? she?s still pushing for change. In March, she visited Gaza with the anti-war group Code Pink to document first-hand the suffering among battle-worn Palestinians. Last month, she was one of several artists who signed a letter objecting to an Israeli film salute at the Toronto Film Festival. She also recently traveled to Burma to protest the imprisonment of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Over the years, she?s dared to speak out against female genital mutilation, Rwandan genocide and the shortage of support for African orphanages.

Her undying activism spans the globe, a life?s passion she documents in her ?living book? at www.alicewalkersblog.com.

?I love blogging,? the Georgia native says. ?I find it so freeing. It suits me. I?m an Aquarius person and this is our time, when ideas can just go right through the air, direct, and you don?t have to wait a year for it to be published.?

Before Walker appears in Healdsburg this weekend at a benefit for the Margaret Okari Foundation, a Kenyan school that educates orphans who are affected by AIDS, she took time to talk about the plight of those who suffer needlessly, a new collection of poetry and what inspired her to settle in Northern California:

Q: What?s your daily ritual like?

A: I like to wake up and write in the morning, but I hang out with a musician (trumpeter Garrett Larson) and musicians keep such weird hours.

Q: Musicians aren?t really morning people, are they?

A: No, but I like the morning for myself and I do my best work then because my mind is clearer.

Q: Are you still in Berkeley?

A: I?m calling you from Mendocino. I live on a little farm outside of Philo, back up in the hills. I just got some chickens and so that?s why I?m here. I can?t bear to leave them. I try to spend half the year in Philo and then I spend a good bit of time in Mexico in the winter. I love the heat. I?m not good with the cold.

Q: How did you wind up settling in Northern California back in the ?70s?

A: I was trying to find a place to write ?The Color Purple? and it was very much like carrying an egg that I needed to lay. My partner then, who already lived in San Francisco, and I drove all over this part of the state, from Yosemite all the way up to Covelo, looking for the right place. We drove through here and I saw this little black boy who looked happy and I knew it was a good sign. So we stopped right there and went in and got a paper and found a place to rent.

Q: Where exactly was that?

A: Boonville.

Q: Which always reminds me of the South. Do you agree?

A: It is like the South, and we found all the swimming holes in the river and the creeks. It was just a lovely, lovely time of writing. I finished that book in a year.

Q: Have you been pleasantly surprised by the endurance of ?The Color Purple?? There was the movie and then the Broadway musical a few years ago.

A: It?s still going. It?s on tour right now. I?m no longer connected. I thanked my ancestors and told them, and they told me, they?re ready for it to no longer be the headliner. But I think it?s just a wonderful gift and people get a lot out of it. I know I still do. I love the characters and I love that there?s a lot of healing going on in that story.

Q: I?ve enjoyed what I?ve read of (the upcoming poetry collection), ?Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.? You have such a knack for balancing the humor with the more resonant, powerful material. The inspiration was that you wanted to throw a party?

A: I was in one of those places of real distress and things seemed pretty grim. And then I decided that part of what is helpful in times like that is just to have a big party and a lot of dancing. So that?s what I did. I rented a hall (Ashkenaz in Berkeley, where she still has a house) and I invited my friends, far and near, and my family, most of whom live on the East Coast and many of them came. They did this incredible ?electric slide? dance that just blew me away. I don?t know how to do it, but seeing them do it just restored my heart.

Q: What else did you learn that night?

A: It?s ancestral wisdom, really. It?s just a verification in my life of what endless generations of people have known, which is that when life looks absolutely dreary, throw a party and just dance until you drop. And you feel better. It?s like it resets your equilibrium.

Q: Over the years, you?ve always been very involved in activism. Do you see that as an inherent role of the writer?

A: I do. I?ve never had the luxury of thinking I could do something that had no real use or relevance to actual life. Even if it?s something that?s really lovely, I see it as medicine. If I write a poem that is just about a flower, I see it as strong medicine. I think my activism is kind of like that. I offer with my physical being and my mental ability whatever it is I can to further people?s happiness. I want them to be happy. The idea that people are suffering needlessly, or at all really, is not one that I like.

Q: Do you ever tire of the fight?

A: Yeah, I do. I tire and I wear out. I?ve been working really hard on this last thing. I went to Gaza in March and I wrote a 10,000-word piece on what I discovered, linking into the atrocities I also saw in Congo and in Rwanda. Talking about it has been very difficult, especially with some people who find it really hard to look at ? not only the bombing of Gaza with white phosphorous bombs, but also that we pay for that. It?s our money that buys all that.

It makes me weary. But I go to bed and I have a nice snack of something and I talk to the ancestors and I read a nice book or watch a movie and I feel better.

Q: And then wake up the next day and renew the fight?

A: Not the next day, though. More and more it?s like the next week.

Q: What do you mean? Didn?t you say that 65 is the new 50?

A: Well, that?s true, but I have to admit there are days when I have to say I think this is what they mean when they said that 65 is getting along.

Bay Area freelance writer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. He can be reached at 280-8014 or jtbiii@yahoo.com.

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