Alice Walker

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Alice Walker
Born: February 9, 1944
Eatonton, Georgia
Occupation: novelist, short story writer, poet
Genres: African American literature
Influences: Howard Zinn, Zora Neale Hurston

Alice Malsenior Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American author and feminist. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 for her critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple.


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Activism and marriage
  • 3 Writing career and success
  • 4 Personal life
  • 5 Awards and other recognition
  • 6 Controversy and criticism
  • 7 Selected works
    • 7.1 Novels and short story collections
    • 7.2 Poetry collections
    • 7.3 Non-fiction
    • 7.4 Works about Alice Walker
  • 8 See also
  • 9 References
  • 10 External links
    • 10.1 Video

Early life

Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, the eighth child of sharecroppers.[1] As well as being African American, her family has Cherokee, Scottish and Irish lineage.[2] Although she grew up in Georgia, she has stated that she often felt displaced there:

But I felt in Georgia and on the east coast generally very squeezed. People have so many hang-ups about how other people live their lives. People always want to keep you in a little box or they need to label you and fix you in time and location. I feel a greater fluidity here. People are much more willing to accept that nothing is permanent, everything is changeable so there is freedom and I do need to live where I can be free.

—Alice Walker, interview with The Observer in 2001, [1]

In her book Alice Walker: A Life, author Evelyn C. White talks about an incident when Walker, who was eight year old at the time, was injured when her brother accidentally shot her in the eye with a BB gun. She became blinded in one eye as a result. In the book, White suggests this event had a large impact on Walker, especially when a white doctor in town swindled her parents out of $250 they paid to repair her injury. Walker refers to this incident in her book Warrior Marks, a chronicle of female genital mutilation in Africa, and uses it to illustrate the sacrificial marks women bear that allow them to be "warriors" against female suppression.

Activism and marriage

After high school, she entered Spelman College in Atlanta on full scholarship in 1961 and later transferred up north to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, graduating in 1965. Walker became interested in the U.S. civil rights movement in part due to the influence of activist Howard Zinn, who was one of her professors at Spelman College. Continuing the activism that she participated in during her college years, Walker returned to the South where she became involved with voter registration drives, campaigns for welfare rights, and children's programs in Mississippi.[3]

In 1965, Walker met and later married Mel Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer. They became the first legally married inter-racial couple in Mississippi.[4] This brought them a steady stream of harassment and even murderous threats from the Ku Klux Klan. The couple had a daughter, Rebecca, and divorced in 1976.

Writing career and success

Walker's first book of poetry was written while she was still a senior at Sarah Lawrence, and she took a brief sabbatical from writing when she was in Mississippi working in the civil rights movement. Walker resumed her writing career when she joined Ms. Magazine as an editor before moving to northern California in the late 1970s. An article she published in 1975 was largely responsible for the renewal of interest in the work of Zora Neale Hurston, who was a large source of inspiration for Walker's writing and subject matter. In 1973, Walker and fellow Hurston scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered Hurston's unmarked grave in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Both women paid for a modest headstone for the gravesite.[5]

In addition to her collected short stories and poetry, Walker's first work of fiction, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, was published in 1970. In 1976, Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published. The novel dealt with activist workers in the South during the civil rights movement, and closely paralleled some of Walker's own experiences.

In 1982, Walker would publish what has become her best-known work, the novel The Color Purple. The story of a young black woman fighting her way through not only racist white culture but patriarchal black culture was a resounding commercial success. The book became a bestseller and was subsequently adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie as well as a 2005 Broadway musical play.

Walker wrote several other novels, including The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing The Secret of Joy (which featured several characters and descendants of characters from The Color Purple) and has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other published work.

Her works typically focus on the struggles of African Americans, particularly women, and their struggle against a racist, sexist, and violent society. Her writings also focus on the role of women of color in culture and history. Walker is a respected figure in the liberal political community for her support of unconventional and unpopular views as a matter of principle.

Personal life

Walker continues to be active in environmental, feminist, and animal rights causes, and has campaigned against female genital mutilation. She is also an advocate for the country of Cuba, and has spoken openly about ending the decades-long embargo against Cuba. Walker has visited Cuba on several occasions.

She has one child, Rebecca Walker, from her marriage to Mel Leventhal. Rebecca is also an author and in 2000 published a memoir entitled Black White and Jewish, chronicling her parents' relationship and how it affected her childhood.[1]

Musician/Comedian Reggie Watts is Walker's second cousin.[6]

Walker discussed her love affair with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman in a December 2006 interview with The Guardian, explaining why they did not go public with their relationship, saying "[the relationship] was delicious and lovely and wonderful and I totally enjoyed it and I was completely in love with her but it was not anybody's business but ours."[7]

Awards and other recognition

In 1983, The Color Purple won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making Walker the first African-American woman to win, as well as the National Book Award.

Walker also won the 1986 O. Henry Award for her short story "Kindred Spirits", published in Esquire magazine in August of 1985.

She has also received a number of other awards for her body of work, including:

  • The Lillian Smith Award from the National Endowment for the Arts
  • The Rosenthal Award from the National Institute of Arts & Letters
  • The Radcliffe Institute Fellowship, the Merrill Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship
  • The Front Page Award for Best Magazine Criticism from the Newswoman's Club of New York

On December 6, 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Alice Walker into the California Hall of Fame.

Controversy and criticism

Existing criticism of Walker's work has centered largely on the depiction of African American men, in particular relating to the novel The Color Purple. When The Color Purple was published, there was some criticism of the portrayal of male characters in the book. The main concern of much of the criticism was that the book appeared to depict the male characters as either mean and abusive (Albert/"Mister") or as buffoons (Harpo). This criticism intensified when the film was released, as the narrative of the film cut a significant portion of the eventual resolution and reconciliation between Albert and Celie.

In the updated 1995 introduction to his novel Oxherding Tale, Charles Johnson criticized the book by saying, "I leave it to readers to decide which book pushes harder at the boundaries of convention, and inhabits most confidently the space where fiction and philosophy meet." The shock waves of his comments were felt in academia, where Johnson broke an unspoken taboo against criticizing another writer of color.[citation needed]

Walker addressed some of these criticisms in The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult 1996. The book was a semi-autobiography, discussing specific events in Walker's life, as well as the perspective of experiencing reaction to The Color Purple twice, once as a book and then as the movie was made. The book also chronicled her struggle with Lyme disease.

Selected works

Novels and short story collections

  • The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970)
  • Everyday Use (1973)
  • In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973)
  • Meridian (novel) (1976)
  • The Color Purple (1982)
  • You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down: Stories (1982)
  • Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self (1983)
  • To Hell With Dying (1988)
  • The Temple of My Familiar (1989)
  • Finding the Green Stone (1991)
  • Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992)
  • The Complete Stories (1994)
  • The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart (2000)

Poetry collections

  • Once (1968)
  • Revolutionary Petunias & Other Poems (1973)
  • Good Night, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning (1979)
  • Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1985)
  • Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems (1991)
  • Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth (2003)
  • A Poem Traveled Down My Arm: Poems And Drawings (2003)
  • Collected Poems (2005)


  • In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)
  • Living by the Word (1988)
  • Warrior Marks (1993)
  • The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult (1996)
  • Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism (1997)
  • Go Girl!: The Black Woman's Book of Travel and Adventure (1997)
  • Pema Chodron and Alice Walker in Conversation (1999)
  • Sent By Earth: A Message from the Grandmother Spirit After the Bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon (2001)
  • Woman
  • We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For (2006)
  • Mississippi Winter IV

Works about Alice Walker

  • Alice Walker: A Life, Evelyn C. White, Norton, 2004

See also

  • African-American literature
  1. ^ a b c Campbell, Duncan. "A long walk to freedom", The Observer, February 25, 2001. Retrieved on 2007-06-14. 
  2. ^ Alice Walker: A Critical Companion by Gerri Bates, ISBN 0-313-32024-1
  3. ^ White, Evelyn C.. "Alice Walker: On Finding Your Bliss; Interview by Evelyn C. White", Ms. Magazine, September/October 1999. Retrieved on 2007-06-14. 
  4. ^ "Inner Light in a Time of Darkness: A Conversation with Author and Poet Alice Walker", Democracy Now!, November 17th, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-06-14. 
  5. ^ Extract from "Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism" by Alice Walker published by The Women's Press Ltd, 1997.
  6. ^ Teagarden, Rebecca. "Reggie Watts", The Seattle Times, December 19, 2004. Retrieved on 2007-06-14. 
  7. ^ "No Retreat", The Guardian, December 15, 2006. Retrieved on 2007-06-14. 
  • Poem: A Mother's Day Plea
  • Living By Grace
  • Alice Walker on
  • New Georgia Encyclopedia
  • "Women in Alice Walker's Short Story Everyday Use"
  • Video

    • "Alice Walker on the 'Toxic Culture' of Globalization", from Democracy Now! program, October 27, 2004
    • "'I am a Renegade, an Outlaw, a Pagan' - Author, Poet and Activist Alice Walker in Her Own Words", interview from Democracy Now! program, February 13, 2006
    • "Alice Walker in Black and White"

    NAME Walker, Alice Malsenior
    ALTERNATIVE NAMES Eatonton, Georgia, United States
    SHORT DESCRIPTION American novelist, short story writer, poet
    DATE OF BIRTH February 9, 1944
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