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Alice Walker

[waw-ker]

Alice Malsenior Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American author, self-declared feminist and womanist - the latter a term she herself coined to make special distinction for the experiences of women of color. She has written at length on issues of race and gender, and is most famous for the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Early life

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

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.|20|20|Alice Walker, interview with The Observer in 2001|

In her book Alice Walker: A Life, author Evelyn C. White talks about an incident when Walker, who was eight years old at the time, was injured when her brother accidentally shot her in the eye with a BB gun. She became blind in her right 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, Walker went to Spelman College in Atlanta on full scholarship in 1961 and later transferred up north to Sarah Lawrence College near New York City, 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.

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. This brought them a steady stream of harassment and even murderous threats from the Ku Klux Klan. The couple had a daughter, Rebecca in 1969, but divorced eight years later, in 1977.

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.

In addition to her collected short stories and poetry, Walker's first novel, 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 has written 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.

Additionally, Walker has published several short stories, including the 1973 "Everyday Use: for your grandmama." This story contains Walker's traditional subjects of feminism and racism against African Americans.

Personal life

She has one child, Rebecca Walker, from her marriage to Mel Leventhal, a Jewish Civil Rights activist/ lawyer. Rebecca is also an author and in 2000 published a memoir titled Black White and Jewish, chronicling her parents' relationship and how it negatively affected her childhood. Walker and her daughter are currently estranged. Daughter Rebecca reports Walker wrote that their "relationship had been inconsequential for years, and that she was no longer interested in being my mother." Walker is a vegan.

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

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."

Awards and other recognition

In 1983, The Color Purple won the 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.

In 1997 she was honored by the American Humanist Association as "Humanist of the Year"

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 located at The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts.

Selected works

Novels and short story collections

Poetry collections

  • Once (1968)
  • Revolutionary Petunias and 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)
  • Poem at Thirty-Nine

Non-fiction

  • 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)
  • Women
  • 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

She opened her own bookstore with all her books in it in 2005.

See also

References

External links

Video

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