It’s been just shy of a year since we launched our literary podcast, The Root Presents: It’s Lit!. A vehicle borne out of both the deep need for escapism amid an ongoing pandemic and The Root staff’s great affinity for books (in addition to being the natural outgrowth of our years-old vertical of the same name), our weekly conversations have given us access to the brilliant minds behind some of our favorite narratives. It’s a rare opportunity, and one that has confirmed the existence of a growing Black literary canon, centered in an infinite number of Black experiences and intellectual curiosities.
Nevertheless, as the series has evolved—including transitioning from two hosts to one and attracting veteran and first-time authors alike writing across genres, there also have been some telling consistencies. For instance, our episodic routine of asking our guests to name the most influential books in their lives. Inevitably, there are a handful of books mentioned again and again: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, almost anything by James Baldwin, and far and away the most frequent, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.
That answer became a little...meta when we spoke with scholar, activist and author Salamishah Tillet in March 2021. Our conversation took place about two months after the publication of her critically acclaimed nonfiction book, In Search of the Color Purple: The Story of an American Masterpiece. Aptly described by publisher Abrams as “mixing cultural criticism, literary history, biography, and memoir,” Tillet quite literally went in search of the story behind Walker’s seminal and deeply controversial novel—by first seeking out the oft-elusive author herself.
As The Color Purple nears its 40th anniversary, Walker has once again made headlines in recent weeks for her own revelations about “cancel culture” (having been canceled numerous times before we even had a phrase for it). Accordingly, we’ve found ourselves not only drawn back to the much beloved novel but to Tillet’s book, which invited both critics and fans of The Color Purple to gain deeper insight into its origins and mercurial author.
Some books are just so good, you can’t help but read them again and again—which is why this week, we invite you back In Search of The Color Purple, with a recast of our conversation with Salamishah Tillet.