‘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.

Rebecca Walker (rebeccawalker.com)
Rebecca Walker (rebeccawalker.com)

(The Root) — Almost halfway through Rebecca Walker’s haunting debut novel, Adé: A Love Story, I realized that dog-earing was a fool’s errand. Every sentence was a gift. Every new paragraph packed with colors, scents and italicized sounds I had to see, smell and hear again. Soon the book’s pages were more bent than not. Wouldn’t it be easier, perhaps even more humane, to just read it again?

Adé is the story of a biracial recent Ivy League grad who sets off for West Africa with her friend and sometime lover, Miriam. We never catch our protagonist’s name until she dives into the life of a local fisherman named Adé on the island of Lamu off of Kenya. Adé christens her “Farida” on page 38, after more than a third of the book is behind her.

With a brand-new name and all-encompassing love, Farida goes about the difficult task of piecing together her own identity. The story feels like poetry and eavesdropping all at once. It stays with you.

“After writing memoirs and then doing collections, all of the books that I’ve done have had a very strong socio-political message, and it’s been really easy to talk about the choices I’ve made,” said Walker from her home in Hawaii. “But for this book it’s harder even to talk about, it was such a creative process. It was more like a stream. It was pure. It just felt right.”

Thankfully, Walker was much more prepared to talk about Adé than she realized.

The Root: Let’s just start at the beginning. Many of your readers know you primarily as a memoirist from your seminal works Black, White and Jewish and Baby Love. Why fiction, why now?

Rebecca Walker: The story is very autobiographical. It’s based on true experience. But I felt like I wanted to try to create something that didn’t necessarily expose everyone involved. I wanted to create a world that was a little more private, and fiction really helps with that. I also wanted to stretch in terms of craft and to use my imagination in a new way, to see if I could do it.

TR: How was wrestling with a novel?

RW: It is a really new medium for me. I read a thousand memoirs before I tried to write a memoir. There’s so much to learn about the form of a novel. I’m excited to be in the early stages of it. Every genre has a different set of rules, in terms of point of view and how important character development is and how the story is told over time.

With a novel, as opposed to entering into someone’s world, you’re entering into this other world. It’s just exciting for me to see how far I can go, to see how many ways I can express myself.

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?