A Short Walk was published in 2006 by the Feminist Press and includes an Afterword by La Vinia Delois Jennings.
From the rural South to Harlem: an indomitable woman’s odyssey mirrors black America, 1900 to 1945.
“A Stately Achievement”—The New York Times Book Review
“Life is just a short walk from the cradle to the grave—and it sure behooves us to be kind to one another along the way.” Cora James, age five, remembers these words spoken by her foster father as the pair walks across Charleston to the Rabbit Ears Minstrel Show. It is there, seated in the heart of the “colored” section, hearing the jeers of the “crackers” and expecting the crowd to explode in racial conflict that Cora first learns how color and class define her world.
A Short Walk captures in microcosm the epic migration of black Americans from the rural south to the “promised land” of the urban north during the first five decades of the twentieth century. Cora grows up poor in South Carolina, later marries an abusive if well-off prison guard, and eventually escapes him by going north. In Harlem, Cora earns money dealing cards and performing in traveling vaudeville shows. She survives the Great Depression and experiences life as a wife, mother, lover, actor, and independent business woman. When the views of the black nationalist movement led by Marcus Garvey challenge her friendships with Filipino and white American neighbors, Cora emerges as very much her own person, who takes to heart the wisdom her foster father taught her as a child.
A picaresque panorama, A Short Walk portrays characters from diverse social backgrounds—the indomitable poor, businessmen, Bible thumpers, gamblers, prostitutes, and Pullman porters. And as readers would expect of a celebrated playwright, “Alice Childress brings to the story the rich proverbs and dialects of the Carolina lowlands.”