Alice Walker is a writer and activist who was born on February 9, 1944. She is best known for penning “The Color Purple” and more than 20 other books and poetry collections. She is also renowned for preserving Zora Neale Hurston’s writings and fighting against female circumcision. Both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize were won by her in 1984.
Walker was the eighth child to be born to Minnie Tallulah Grant and Willie Lee Walker on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. During the Jim Crow era, her parents were sharecroppers who toiled on a sizable cotton farm. Walker’s mother enrolled the 4-year-old in the first grade at East Putnam Consolidated after spotting her talent at a very young age. There, the youngster swiftly rose to the top of the class.
A childhood mishap left her with one eye blind in 1952. She did not receive proper medical care due to the Jim Crow south’s medical circumstances until she went to see her brother in Boston six years later. She nevertheless went on to Butler-Baker High School and graduated as the class valedictorian.
Walker was given a scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta when she was 17 and developed an interest in Russian literature and the nascent civil rights movement there. After her revolutionary mentor Howard Zinn was expelled from Spelman College in 1963, Walker accepted a scholarship offer from Sarah Lawrence College and transferred there.
She studied poetry there under Muriel Rukeyser (1913–1980), who assisted her in getting “Once,” her debut collection of poems, published in 1968. Walker attended school as an exchange student in East Africa during her senior year. 1965 saw her graduate.
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Walker moved to Jackson, Mississippi after finishing college and briefly worked for the New York City Department of Welfare. She participated in voter registration drives there and worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. On March 17, 1967, in New York City, she married Melvyn R. Leventhal, a fellow civil rights activist she had met in 1965.
The couple relocated back to Jackson, becoming the city’s first legally wed interracial couple. Rebecca, their only child, was born on November 17, 1969. In 1976, the couple was divorced.
Walker began her professional writing career as a writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College and Jackson State University in 1968 and 1969, respectively (1970–1971). The Third Life of Grange Copeland, a three-generation sharecroppers’ epic that was her debut book, was released in 1970. She was a Black Women’s Writers instructor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston in 1972. She had been writing steadily during this time.
Walker began drawing inspiration from the early 20th-century Harlem Renaissance in the middle of the 1970s. Walker released a biography of the poet Langston Hughes (1902–1967) in 1974, and the following year, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” a summary of the study she and Charlotte Hunt conducted, was published in Ms. Walker is credited with rekindling interest in the writer and anthropologist Neale Hurston (1891–1961).
The civil rights movement in the South was the focus of her 1976 novel “Meridian.” Her life was revolutionised by her subsequent book, “The Color Purple.”
Walker writes openly about rape, violence, loneliness, difficult relationships, bisexuality, multigenerational viewpoints, sexism, and racism in her poetry, novels, and short stories—issues she was familiar with from her own experiences.
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Walker’s popularity increased after the 1982 release of “The Color Purple.” Her Pulitzer Prize and the Steven Spielberg-directed film garnered her not just celebrity but also criticism. She received harsh criticism for how poorly men were portrayed in “The Color Purple,” yet many of these critics conceded that the film’s portrayals were more overtly unfavourable than those in the novel.
Activism and Current Work
Walker’s writings are renowned for their representations of Black women’s lives. She paints a clear picture of the racism, misogyny, and poverty that can make that life difficult. But she also highlights the benefits of family, community, self-worth, and spirituality as aspects of that existence.
Many of her books feature women in historical eras other than our own. Similar to nonfiction writing about women’s history, these portrayals help readers understand how the status of women has changed and remained the same over time.
Walker is still involved in writing, as well as environmental, feminist, and womanist causes, as well as concerns of economic justice. In 2004, she released the novel “Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart,” and since then, she has also written a number of poetry collections and nonfiction books. For instance, Walker released a book of poetry in 2018 titled “Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart.”
Her work and activity, notably in the areas of women’s concerns and civil rights, have been influenced by social movements and have helped to inspire them. As a companion book to the documentary “Warrior Marks,” which documented female genital mutilation in Africa and featured interviews with victims, opponents of female circumcision, and circumcisers, she released “Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Binding of Women” in 1993.
Walker gave a reading in 2008 at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, to honour the institution’s care of her archive. She also started her own website, alicewalkersgarden.com, that year and supported Barack Obama during his first campaign for president. 6
Walker’s poems, stories, interviews, blog posts, and other writings about society and the necessity to keep up the battle for racial justice may be found on the website. It mentions that Walker travelled to the Gaza Strip in 2008, a Palestinian autonomous territory bordering Israel on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Walker remarked on the journey:
“Going to Gaza was our opportunity to remind the people of Gaza and ourselves that we belong to the same world: the world where grief is not only acknowledged, but shared; where we see injustice and call it by its name; where we see suffering and know the one who stands and sees is also harmed, but not nearly so much as the one who stands and sees and says and does nothing.”
She met Steve Biko’s sons while giving the keynote speech at the University of Cape Town’s 11th Annual Steve Biko Lecture in 2010, which honoured the activist who was assassinated in South Africa. She was also given the Lennon/Ono Peace Grant in Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik in the same year. At the occasion, she got to know Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Walker’s bio on her website appears to best capture who she is as a writer, a person, and what she believes is significant in today’s world:
“Walker has been an activist all of her adult life, and believes that learning to extend the range of our compassion is activity and work available to all. She is a staunch defender not only of human rights, but of the rights of all living beings.”