“That summer marked the beginning of the realization that I could never live happily in Africa–or anywhere else–until I could live freely in Mississippi.” – Alice Walker
- Chicken Chronicles: A Memoir (2011)
- Over Coming Speechlessness (2010)
- Once: Poems (1968)
- The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970)
- In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women
- Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems
- Five Poems
- Langston Hughes: American Poet
- Meridian (1976)
- Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning
- I Love Myself When I am Laughing… and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive (editor)
- You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down: Stories (1982)
- The Color Purple (1982) Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award
- In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)
- Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful: Poems
- To Hell With Dying (1988)
- Living by the Word: Selected Writings (1988)
- The Temple of My Familiar (1989)
- Finding the Green Stone
- Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems
- Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992)
- Warrior Marks (1993)
- The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult
- Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism
- By the Light of My Father’s Smile (1998)
- The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart (2000)
- A Long Walk to Freedom (2001)
- Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth: New Poems (2003)
- A Poem Traveled Down My Arm : Poems and Drawings (2003)
- Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart (2004)
- Pema Chodron And Alice Walker in Conversation: audio (2005)
- There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me (2006)
- We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For (2006)
by Andrea Beaulieu (SHS) 2001, Updated 2105
Alice Walker is not only an extraordinary writer but also a strong leader in many pro-womanist campaigns. Walker’s unique and distinguished writing style and her boldness on the issues she tackles in her stories have elevated her to the status of a legend in American literature. Although most people know her for her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Color Purple, Alice Walker has a diverse and interesting history and has contributed to many activist efforts nationwide.
Alice Malsenior Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. She was born the eighth and youngest child of Minnie Tallulah Grant Walker and Willie Lee Walker, who were poor sharecroppers. In the summer of 1952, at the age of eight, Alice was playing “cowboys and Indians with her brothers when she was accidentally shot in her right eye by a BB gun pellet. This accident left her permanently blinded in that eye. Afterwards she felt ugly and her confidence began to fade. One source says that she became shy and introverted, and spent a great deal more time reading and being alone.” As a result, she began to observe others and their relationships, and she found that she liked to write. When she was fourteen, one of her brothers paid to have the “cataract” removed from her eye. While the surgery did not return the vision in her one eye, it did help restore her confidence (Alice Walker. About.com).
Walker graduated from high school in 1961. She was valedictorian of her class and was voted prom queen. She decided to attend Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, where she was able to secure a scholarship awarded by the Georgia Department of Rehabilitation to physically challenged students in combination with an academic scholarship. While at Spelman, she had the opportunity to get involved in causes that she believed in, which she still supports to this day. At the end of her freshman year in 1962, Walker was invited to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s home in recognition of her being invited to attend the Youth World Peace Festival in Helsinki, Finland. In August of 1963, she traveled to Washington, D.C., for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. From a tree limb afar, she was able to hear Dr. King’s “ I Have A Dream” address (Jackson).
Walker received a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, prior to beginning her junior year of college. As a result, she opted to finish her junior and senior year at Sarah Lawrence, where she graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor of Arts degree (Jokinen). During her junior year, she traveled to Africa and Europe, which sparked her interest in traveling abroad. However, in her senior year of college, Walker discovered that she was pregnant. During this time she considered committing suicide and wrote volumes of poetry to help herself deal with her feelings and worst fears. With the help of a friend, she had a safe abortion. When she was only twenty-one years old, Walker’s mentor, Muriel Ruykeyser, sent a short story of Alice’s titled “To Hell With Dying” to a publisher, where it was published shortly thereafter (Jackson).
Alice Walker is and has been a strong and outspoken activist on a variety of issues. After graduation from Sarah Lawrence, Alice returned to Georgia to participate in the Civil Rights movement by carrying out door-to-door voters’ registration among the rural poor. Then, in the fall of 1965, she moved to New York City where she worked in the city’s Welfare Department. The next year she moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where she volunteered for voter registration drives and Head Start programs. While there, she met and instantly fell in love with a young white Jewish law student named Mel Leventhal, who was working for the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. She then returned to New York City with him so that he could finish up law school. They ended up getting married in March of 1967 (Alice Walker” ; Jackson).
Soon after being married, the couple returned to Mississippi where Mel pursued civil rights court cases. They received many threats of physical violence because of their inter-racial marriage, which was illegal at that time in Mississippi. Alice began work as a black history teacher for the local Head Start program, and soon after became pregnant. However, after she heard of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, she could not contain her grieving, and she lost her unborn child.
In 1968 she accepted a teaching position at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. That same year, her first volume of poetry, titled Once, was published. The following year (1969) Alice Walker finally finished her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, which was published in 1970. In 1969 she also gave birth to a daughter, Rebecca Walker, who has now also written a memoir (see book cover left). Rebecca was born three days after Walker finished The Third Life of Grange Copeland. That same year, Walker was appointed writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi.
Alice Walker’s difficult home life in Mississippi resulted in depression. Her book Meridian is set during this period of time. As a result, she and her daughter moved to Massachusetts in 1972 where she accepted a teaching position at Wellesley College and later on at the University of Massachusetts at Boston (Alice Walker” About.com). There she began one of the first women’s studies courses in the nation on women’s literature.
Continuing to write, in 1973, Alice published her first collection of short stories, In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, and her second volume of poetry, Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (Jackson). The following year, she, along with her husband and daughter Rebecca, moved back to New York where she became an editor for Ms. magazine. Her second novel, Meridian, was published in 1976. That same year, Alice and her husband, Mel, were divorced.
Alice accepted a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1978 to concentrate full-time on her writing and moved to San Francisco, California. There she met and fell in love with Robert Allen, editor of The Black Scholar Magazine. They moved to a country home in Mendocino, California, where she still lives today (Jackson).
Her writing began to flourish, and in 1982, she completed The Color Purple, for which she received the 1983 Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award. That same year, her book, In Search of Our Mother’s Garden, was published, containing essays on her womanist ideology.
Alice Walker had an active role in the making of the movie based on her book The Color Purple. The movie was produced by Quincy Jones and directed by Steven Spielberg (Jackson), and received eleven Academy Award nominations. Her sister, Ruth, also began The Color Purple Foundation, which does charitable work for education (Jackson). In 1984, Alice co-founded the Wild Trees Press publishing company out of Novarro, California (Alice Walker, Africana.com).
Over the next several years, many of Alice’s works were published. In 1984, her third volume of poetry was published, titled Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful. Her second book of essays, Living By the Word, followed in 1988. The Temple of My Familiar was released the next year. Her volume of poetry, Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems, as well as her children’s story,Finding the Green Stone, were published in 1991.
Alice Walker’s fifth novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy, in 1992, recorded the psychic trauma of one woman’s life after forced genital mutilation. Her interest in this subject matter led her to join forces with filmmaker Pratibha Parmar in 1993 to produce a documentary about the defacement of women’s bodies. She wrote about her experiences with the documentary and her feelings toward this subject in Warrior Marks.
In 1996 Alice published The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult. It describes through essays and journal entries, the loss of her mother, the break up of her thirteen-year relationship with Robert Allen, her struggle with lyme disease and depression, her awakening to bi-sexuality, and notes of remembrance on the making of the movie, The Color Purple. The next year, Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism, was released. Her first work in eight years, By the Light of My Father’s Smile, was published in September of 1998. In 2000 The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart, which contains a collection of autobiographical and fictional stories about the bindings and breakings of relationships with family, friends, and lovers, was released. Her work A Long Walk to Freedom was released in 2001. Walker’s daughter, Rebecca Walker, has herself written her memoirs in a book called Black White and Jewish.
Alice Walker has received numerous awards and honors. Her most distinguished award is the Pulitzer Prize for literature for The Color Purple. Her other awards include the Lillian Smith Award, a National Endowment for the Arts grant and fellowship, a Radcliffe Institute fellowship, an honorary Ph.D. from Russell Sage College, the National Book Award, the Rosenthal Award, the Front Page Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Merrill fellowship, the Townsend Prize, the Lyndhurst Prize, the O’Henry Award, and many others ( Jokinen).
Alice Walker is a legendary writer and outspoken liberal political activist. She has spoken out for civil rights, against apartheid movement, against nuclear arms, against the United States’ treatment of Cuba, and against female genital mutilation . Although some of her works have received criticism for their harsh portrayals of African-American men, she has continued to confront many conflicts facing African-American lifestyles and has continued to support womanist values. Her commitment to important causes, coupled with her talent as gifted writer, has placed her among a small elite group of legendary authors of our time.
- 1944: Born in Eatonton, Georgia, the youngest of eight children
- 1952: Accidentally shot and blinded in right eye by her brother by a BB gun pellet
- 1961: Graduates from high school as valedictorian and receives scholarship to Spelman College
- 1963: Transfers to Sarah Lawrence College in New York; has an abortion, which leads to severe depression
- 1965: Graduated from Sarah Lawrence; works in voting registration drives in Georgia; works for New York City’s Welfare Department
- 1966: Moves to Mississippi to register voters and help fight civil rights campaigns
- 1967: Marries Mel Leventhal, a white civil rights lawyer (see photo below), and they become the first interracial marriage in Jackson, Mississippi, at the time
- 1968: Publishes first book, Once, a volume of poetry
- 1970: Publishes first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland; Gives birth to daughter, Rebecca
- 1972: Accepts teaching position at Wellesley College and begins first women’s studies courses
- 1973: Becomes editor at Ms.magazine
- 1976: Publishes second novel,Meridian; divorces husband Mel Leventhal and moves to California
- 1978: Falls in love with Robert Allen, which begins a thirteen-year relationship
- 1982: Release of The Color Purple, which receives the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award
- 1984: Co-founds the Wild Tree Publishing Company out of Navarro, California
- 1985: The film version of The Color Purple by Steven Speilberg and Quincy Jones is released
- 1992: Fifth novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy, is published
- 1993: Teams up with Pratibha Parmar to create a documentary on female subject matter, titled Warrior Marks
- 2001: A Long Walk to Freedom is released.
- 2003: A Poem Traveled Down My Arm : Poems and Drawings is published.
- 2003: Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth: New Poems
- 2003: A Poem Traveled Down My Arm : Poems and Drawings
- 2004: Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart (2004)
- 2005: Pema Chodron And Alice Walker in Conversation: audio
- 2006: There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me
- 2006: We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For
A Review of The Color Purple
by Andrea Beaulieu (SHS)
The novel The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a wonderful account of a young women’s journey thorough life. One reviewer, Gloria Rose says, “The Color Purple is a story about growth, endurance, loyalty, solidarity, and joy– all nurtured by the strength of love.” The novel’s ending leaves the reader with a peaceful sigh and causes him or her to evaluate and question even his own life.
The novel is somewhat difficult to read and offers few specific details for the setting and characters. However, the reader soon learns from clues in the passage that it begins when the narrator, Celie, is only fourteen. As the novel develops, it is clear that the time span of the novel is about thirty or forty years. It begins with people traveling in wagons, and towards the end, people are driving cars. Also, it is hard to realize the large time gap between different letters, which is sometimes as long as five years.
The story begins and continues throughout the novel, with a letter to God written by Celie. At first, she informs us that her mother’s health is fading and her own father has raped her. This striking and bold beginning lets us know that Celie’s life is anything but ordinary. She doesn’t have anyone to talk to about her troubles, and therefore, she writes to God as if He were her best friend. Later in the novel, Celie writes to her sister, Nettie, rather than God. The letters are written in what is referred to as black folk language. This dialect reveals the small amount of education that Celie has received. She writes the letters as she thinks, which helps the reader to see life through her eyes and gives an intimate view into her life. He or she witnesses through her letters her amazing growth as a woman, who becomes a whole new person inside and out. She learns to love herself and to share love with others.
Celie, the character who writes the letters, is a young girl from Georgia who thinks of herself as an ugly and poor, black woman with little self worth, which she acknowledges time and time again. As the novel progresses, the reader gets to follow Celie as she begins to develop an understanding of life and love. Her father marries her off to a man whom she refers to as Mr.______, who is left with many children from his previous marriages. Celie leaves home to take care of the man’s children. However, she does not love Mr.______ and stays in the abusive marriage for many years. It is her husband’s lover, Shug Avery, a famous female blues singer, that “gives Celie the courage to ask for more—to laugh, to play, and finally—to love”, as stated on the cover of the book. Shug and the inspiration from Nettie transform Celie into a whole new person and help Celie to learn to be happy with herself and others. To emphasize, Gloria Rose adds, “…one of the central focuses of the book is on Celie’s mental and emotional rebirth. Hate and violence have almost killed Celie, but then she meets Shug, a woman who is able to kindle feelings of sexual love and self-love within Celie—for the first time… The strength of these women, and their caring for one another, offer opportunities for all three of them to continue growing—despite the racist, sexist world they live in.”
Although Walker has received much criticism of her portrayal of black men in The Color Purple, the story is told through the eyes of a black woman who felt hurt and abused by the men to whom she is closest. The men are seen entirely from the point of view of women and are therefore described as cruel and full of rage. Such lines as “Well, you know wherever there’s a man, there’s trouble” and “A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men” (Pinckney) explain Celie’s view of men. Her scarring early childhood plays a large role in her discrimination.
I enjoyed reading the book very much. It helped me to understand life through a totally different viewpoint. Although I have not experienced much of what Celie has experienced, I still feel like I have lived through the joy and success along with her. To see Celie develop into a successful and happy woman is inspiring to me. I think it is a great portrayal of African American women’s suffering and the development of one’s self. The bonds created by the women show how they can help each other and, in turn, strengthen themselves.
I recommend this classic novel to anyone who enjoys reading about women’s victories and seeing the strength they develop to overcome obstacles in life. However, the novel does contain details of Celie’s sexual experiences and her discovery of parts of her body. It also includes some same sex relations between Celie and Shug, which may be offensive to some people. Additionally, the novel also contains rape and violent behavior by some of the men. Despite the gruesome parts, the novel as a whole is a great pathway into the thoughts and feelings of an African American woman who has a very eventful and interesting life. Barbara T. Christian announced in Black Literature Criticism, “[The Color Purple] especially affirms that the most abused of the abused can transform herself. It completes the cycle Walker announced a decade ago: the survival and liberation of black women through the strength and wisdom of others.” The Color Purple received the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for Fiction, and it certainly deserved them both.
- Anniina’s Alice Walker Page includes a short biography and lots of links!
- Wikipedia article about Alice Walker
- About.com provides a wonderful and detailed biography of Walker.
- Various links to info about Walker can be found here.
- Purchase books by Alice Walker at Amazon.com. Each book site contains readers’ and critics’ reviews on the books.
- Duncan Campbell provides excellent interview with Alice Walker on her new book, A Long Walk to Freedom, and also her early life and civil rights journey.
- DateHookup.com has useful information about Alice Walker.
- “Alice Walker.” About.com. 17 April 2001.
- “Alice Walker.” Africana.com. <http://www.africana.com/tt_132.htm> (17 April 2001).
- “Alice Walker.” Black Voices.com. <http://www.blackvoices.com/feature/bhm_00/pillars/085_Alice_Walker.html> (26 March 2001).
- “Alice Walker.” Literature Online. Longman Publishers. (25 March 2001).
- Campbell, Duncan. “A Long Walk to Freedom.” Guardian Unlimited.
<http://www.observer.co.uk/review/story/0,6903,442502,00.html> (17 April 2001).
- Draper, James P., ed. Black Literature Criticism. Vol 3. Detroit: Gale, 1992.
- Jackson, Melinda L. “Alice Walker-Womanist Writer.”
<http://wwwvms.utexas.edu/~melindaj/alice.html> (26 March 2001).
- Jokinen, Anniina. “Anniina’s Alice Walker Page.”
<http://www.luminarium.org/contemporary/alicew/> (26 March 2001).
- Pinckney, Darryl. “Black Victims, Black Villains.” The New York Review of Books34.1 (1987) 17-20. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Eds. Daniel G. Marowski and Roger Matuz. Vol 46. Detroit: Gale, 1988. 431-432.
- Price, Deb. “Alice Through The Looking Glass.” The Detroit News.
<http://det.news.com/menu/stories/38029.htm> (19 April 2001).
- Rose, Gloria. Cliffs Notes on Walker’s The Color Purple. Ed. Gary Carey. Nebraska: Cliffs Notes, 1986.
- Schmitt, Deborah A., ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol 103. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 355.
- Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.