'Baby Love' Writer on Muse of 1st Novel

In her first novel, Ade, Rebecca Walker tells The Root she is revealing the true pain of a lost love.

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TR: Novelist Mat Johnson said Adé "reads like truth," and I totally agree. Where did truth and art meet?

RW: There are so many different truths when we write fiction. It's another form of truth. The story is based on a really powerful relationship I had with a man on Lamu in the '90s. In some ways the book is really an ode to him. He gave me so much, and I felt that I wasn't able to give him his due. The book is a gift to him in some ways. I've been writing it in pieces for over 10 years.

There are certain things that are changed and fictionalized, but the heart of the story, the love of the story, the pain of the story, is real. The love I had for him is still intact and enduring, and I wanted to build a monument to that with the book. In a lot of ways it's a love letter.

TR: What do you hope readers come away with?


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RW: I hope the book works for people. That it both helps them appreciate the love that they have and helps them look back at the powerful loves in their lives. Even if a breakup was hard, there's still something there to be mined, to be processed, to be appreciated. And the experience of letting go of one's old identity ... to move into a different modality seems really relevant right now.

In terms of everything happening internationally, we have to be fluid, but we're also asking ourselves just how fluid can we be? Is there something that's nonnegotiable? And that was definitely something I was thinking about as I was writing. To think I could go anywhere and then later to realize I do actually appreciate where I come from. There are boundaries. That's an interesting sort of moment, a realization.

TR: Travel, of course, is a huge theme in the book, almost like another character in and of itself. How has travel changed your own life as it did Farida's?

RW: Traveling has always been a big part of my life. When I was 15 ... I backpacked through Mexico and hung out with the Huichol Indians and took peyote. I learned so much from them about nonattachment and beauty. I've always traveled. I traveled a lot with my mother to Indonesia and Jamaica and the Caribbean. I just was a born traveler.