I am not sure if you know that you saved my life.
As a middle schooler, I watched the movie of The Color Purple with my mom when it aired on television for the first time, and we sat and cried together when Nettie came home. I am sure we cried at other points of the story, too, just like we did when at a young age I watched Roots with my parents, because they didn’t want me to be racist like many of the people in my hometown were racist. I know I cried when I figured out that Celie and Shug were so in love, so filled with grace for one another.
When I was in high school, I was really unsure of a lot of things, but I was sure of the fact that I loved to read, and I loved the movie I’d watched with my mom. I was overjoyed when I found out that the movie I’d watched was based (later I found out, very loosely) on your epistolary novel The Color Purple. I borrowed a copy from the Carnegie Public Library, and I never returned it. Your book is the only book I’ve ever stolen from the library, Alice, and I wouldn’t have stolen it, but when I went to the bookstore in the mall with my gift certificate, they didn’t have, and wouldn’t order, your book. So I kept the one from the library with all of my markings and my dog-eared pages, until in the middle of a fight a now ex-girlfriend tore the pages out and threw them out the window like hellish snow.
When I stole the book, I just knew I needed it, because the love between Shug and Celie was the most real love between two people I’d ever read in a book, seen in a movie, or experienced in my own life. I wanted a love like theirs. I wanted someone to make me feel special, where I didn’t feel so special. I wanted someone to make me feel beautiful, where I didn’t feel so beautiful. I wanted someone to love me, even if they loved some other people too. I wanted what they had. I wanted to grow old on a front porch in a rocking chair. I wanted grace, instead of shame.
I think I have read your book close to fifty times, maybe more. Every time there is something new to me, something that speaks deeper to me, something that makes me think life is more beautiful than when I began your book again. There are other books that do this for me, Paradise by Toni Morrison and Mama Day by Gloria Naylor to name two of them. But there’s something about Celie and Shug that pulls me back and pushes me forward and just makes me know everything is going to be alright.
When I was in college, and I was thinking about coming out to my family, I was at a really low point, Alice. I mean a lowest of the low, low point. I thought that telling my family about my sexuality was probably one of the most overwhelming things I’d ever do. I had no idea how they’d react. In my very lowest moment, I decided to reread The Color Purple. When I made it to the scene around the dinner table where Celie announces that she’s leaving with Shug, I just sobbed. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my life could always be so much worse than it felt to me, or what I made it out to be in my head.
Basically, Alice, what I am trying to say, is that your words have saved me so many times over, I have no idea how to repay you for your grace. Through words on a page, you taught me how to move from shame to grace. You showed me the way. And I thank you.