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‘Awakening the inquiry’

Author and poet Alice Walker.

Author and poet Alice Walker.

SANTA FE, N.M. — The inability of author and poet Alice Walker to take part in a workshop at Ghost Ranch this summer has become a bonus this fall as she brings along two of her friends for a week-long exploration of women’s wisdom, activism and feminism.

Walker, along with writer and feminist activist Gloria Steinem and eco-feminist theologian Chung Hyun Kyung, will take part in a workshop Monday through Friday at Ghost Ranch and speak publicly on “A New Vision of Leadership” Saturday at The Lensic.

Melanie Harris, associate professor of religion and ethics at Texas Christian University and one of the organizers of their visit, promises a life-changing experience for those who take part.

She said she invited Walker to an event at Ghost Ranch this summer and there was a schedule conflict, but Walker expressed an interest in coming another time and brought up the question of who else might join her.

“Alice Walker has a deep heart for the desert and the beauty of the desert. She’s been wanting to come to New Mexico for some time,” Harris said. So a new session at Ghost Ranch evolved that will bring Walker, along with Steinem and Chung.

“These women are dear friends. They have been in the movement for social justice and feminism for a long time,” Harris said. “Many people will be coming (to the Ghost Ranch event) to restore and reinvigorate their own commitments to global and social justice.”

The headliners not only will each take the spotlight for one day, but will stay and interact with others throughout the week, especially including women of Native American and traditional Hispanic backgrounds who will share their own thoughts about women’s wisdom and connection with the earth, she said.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime gift,” Harris said of the conjunction of inspirational leaders and thinkers.

Actually, she added, the word “womanist” is one that Walker has adopted, since its meaning has evolved to incorporate a range of concerns, including race and class, that weren’t necessarily included in the early years of the feminist movement.

Harris is an Alice Walker scholar who has studied her writings and teaches ethics, womanist religious thought, and classes tying African American literature and media with religion.

She has written the book “Gifts of Virtue: Alice Walker and Womanist Ethics.”

This will be a rare opportunity to hear these women, now in their later years, reflect back on their lives and the social ferment that they’ve observed and participated in, she said.

Chung, somewhat younger than the other two, is a lay theologian of the Presbyterian Church of Korea and more well-known around the world than in this country, according to Harris.

Gloria Steinem.

Gloria Steinem.

“She is a powerful and practical theologian” whose work looks at “how to bring women’s voices into the way we talk about God, society and the church,” Harris said.

Saturday’s Lensic event, put together by the Academy for the Love of Learning, will focus on leadership – what it means and how it works, or should work, in today’s world.

Aaron Stern, the Academy’s founder, will join the women in a panel discussion. He said he met Steinem many years ago on a journey to India studying the topic of human trafficking.

“To me, she is one of the most profound human beings I’ve ever met,” he said, adding that they have had continuing discussions about issues of leadership.

The Academy for the Love of Learning has been studying the topic for some 15 years, focusing on personal leadership – when and how someone decides to take a stand on an issue, to make a statement or do something that changes what is happening in their community.

Theologian Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung.

Theologian Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung.

Saturday’s event will help launch a broader discussion on leadership, “what the word really means as we’re entering one of the most difficult periods in human history,” Stern said.

He predicts a “rich conversation,” which will begin with a video made from interviews with 17 or 18 people identified as emerging leaders in the Santa Fe area.

Some of the questions that arise about leadership concern how to bring many people’s voices together and honor their diversity, while including some order in the system, he said.

How does a person become willing to relax his or her own ego to consider another person’s point of view and be willing to be changed by it?

How can those voices be incorporated into a responsive hierarchy? And how can a hierarchy react quickly and intelligently to new information or insight?

“I don’t know if we have an answer – that’s one of the scariest thoughts of all,” Stern said. “The most important thing now is awakening the inquiry.”