Alice Malsenior Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an African-American author and feminist who received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 for The Color Purple.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Written work and topics
- 3 Political work and activism
- 4 Awards and other recognition
- 5 Controversy and criticism
- 6 Health issues
- 7 Personal life
- 8 Selected works
- 9 References
- 10 External links
- 11 See also
Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, United States; as well as being African American, her family has Cherokee, Scottish and Irish lineage. Not many people know about the real reason for Walker having glasses. When she was eight years old, she was playing with her brothers at her house. They accidentally shot her in the eye with a BB pellet. Her parents tried to treat the injury at home, but it only got worse. After a few days, they took her to the doctor. Unfortunately, they were too late. She was blinded in her right eye. Over time, the injury calcified and transformed into a white scar. Walker hated how this affected her appearance and how she was ridiculed for it. After high school, Walker attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated in 1965 from Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers (Bronxville postal zone), New York. During her junior year, she spent a summer as an exchange student in Uganda. Also, during her college education, she realized she was pregnant and was devastated. She thought she would be a disgrace to her parents. She got so upset, she contemplated suicide. One of her friends found a doctor who gave Walker an abortion.
Written work and topics
Walker's writings include novels, stories, essays and poems.
Typically, they focus on the struggles of African Americans, particularly women, and they witness against societies that are racist, sexist, and violent. 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. She is an open bisexual, and sympathetic of people of all sexualities, ethnicities, and races. Her first book of poetry was written while she was still a senior at Sarah Lawrence. She took a brief sabbatical from writing when she was in Mississippi and worked in the U.S. civil rights movement.
Walker resumed her writing career when she joined Ms. Magazine. An article she published in 1975 was largely responsible for the renewal of interest in the work of Zora Neale Hurston. (In 1973, Walker and fellow Hurston scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered Hurston's unmarked grave in Ft. Pierce, FL. Both women paid for a modest headstone for the gravesite.)
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, and the immediacy of the characters and the story struck a nerve in readers, regardless of race, age, or gender. The book became a best seller, and was subsequently made into a 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, among other protagonists, characters or descendants of characters from The Color Purple) and has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other published work.
Political work and activism
Walker became a political activist, in part due to the influence of activist Howard Zinn, who was one of her professors at Spelman College. She spent several years in the 1960s working specifically as a civil rights activist, and continues to be an advocate for civil rights for all people.
She is 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.
Awards and other recognition
The Color Purple won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 as well as the American 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 received several awards for her stark portrayal of racism in her novels.
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
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.
Walker addressed some of these criticisms in The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult 1996. "The Same River Twice" was an autobiography of sorts, 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.
In her book "Alice Walker: A Life", author Evelyn White talks about an incident where Walker was injured as a child and was blinded in one eye as a result. Walker's brother had shot her in the eye with a BB gun. In the book, White suggests this event had a huge 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 documentary turned 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.
Walker has also chronicled her struggle with Lyme disease in "The Same River Twice".
Walker married a Jewish man, Mel Leventhal. They were the first legally married inter-racial couple in segregated Mississippi. They had a daughter, Rebecca, and are now divorced.
Musician/Comedian Reggie Watts is Walker's second cousin.
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 (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)
- By the Light of My Father's Smile (1998)
- The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart (2000)
- Now is the Time to Open Your Heart (2004)
- 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)
- 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
- The Sabanci University School of Languages Podcasts: The World in Alice Walker's Eye
- Poem: A Mother's Day Plea
- Living By Grace
- Alice Walker on AALBC.com
- New Georgia Encyclopedia
- "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"
- African-American literature
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