Willie Little: Miles To Go Before I Sleep

A sculptural installation comprised of 12 contemporary African inspired, carved walking sticks. ** New Tweed acquisition**

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep, Willie Little, 2006

Reimagined from a May 2019 trip home to where I grew up in North Carolina.

I had not gone home to the Pactolus Township in eastern North Carolina for 13 years. I was filled with fear and trepidation for many reasons. Being a gay Black man from the rural south was one of the biggest reasons to stay away. I had no words to say about this work, for an upcoming installation in Portland, Oregon. I wanted my thoughts to reflect how I felt in 2019 which had evolved from its first incarnation. As I was 30 miles away from home, the words flowed like a river; like the Tar River, the place I was baptized at the age of 6.

Words, they can sting, can hurt. This installation is a metaphorical and spiritual journey to enlightenment, we as a nation must take to heal the divides of race and class in America.

Where I grew up, Black and white farms stood side by side, divided by fence. Things said about race on one side of the fence, were equally said on the other; just never together.

These majestic African inspired walking sticks could possibly be fences, barriers, African scepters to protect, to exalt. They could be emblem of nobility, an instrument of battle or ritual. They could possibly suggest, we all as humans move beyond hatred for one another and embrace our commonalties. We were all born with the capacity to love, have compassion for one another. Hate is learned.

These majestic sticks are adorned with cockleburs, prickly seed pods that could represent African hair in its natural state. Once a racial epithet, our hair is considered a symbol of strength and resilience. As many of us embrace the texture of our hair, we can say today, as we many echoed in the 60s and 70s, our hair is beautiful. Blackness is beautiful.

The 4 symbols crown my mystical sticks: The halo (female), horn (male) could represent the characteristics we as humans all share. The (flame) could light our way on our life journey. The (diamond)—oh, the riches; for there are many that have little to do with money. My family grew up poor, but we were rich at the same time, lived off the soil; didn’t want for nothing. We tilled the soil. The earth, in turn, gave us a bountiful harvest that made us rich, rich as the soil beneath our swollen feet.

The inspiration of the title comes from a phrase from Robert Frosts poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. The speaker says, “But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.” The speaker is traveling and needs to cover some distance before getting back home. – A symbolic safe place of security, love, happiness, nirvana.

We as humans:
We All have miles to go before we get back home. And we have miles to go before we sleep. Maya Angelou said it many years ago, however it is still apropos: “We should strive to make this country more than it is today.”