Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Walker, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award, has dedicated her life to establishing a literary canon of African American women writers and to encouraging the “survival whole” of all women. She has actively sought to win recognition for literary “foremothers” such as Zora Neale Hurston and to place their contributions within the fabric of her own artistry.
Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944, into a family of sharecroppers near Eatonton, Georgia. Her father, Willie Lee Walker, was the grandson of slaves. Walker’s enslaved paternal great-great-grandmother, Mary Poole, had walked from Virginia to Georgia carrying two of her children on her hips. Walker’s relationship with her father became strained as she grew into adolescence and showed a proclivity for intellectual pursuits. Although her father was brilliant, his educational opportunities had been limited, and he feared that education would place barriers between him and his children. When Walker left her home for Spelman College in Atlanta, her relationship with her father ended.
Minnie Tallulah Grant Walker, Walker’s mother, realized how important education was for her daughter. Minnie Walker, a farmhand and domestic worker, greatly desired an education for her daughter. She enrolled Walker in the first grade at the age of four and excused her from household chores so that she might have time for her reading and schoolwork. Minnie Walker saved the money she earned as a domestic in the town of Eatonton and bought several gifts that had a great impact upon her daughter’s life. These gifts included a sewing machine that enabled Walker to make her own clothes, a suitcase, and a typewriter, of which she later made good use.
When Walker was eight years old, a shot fired from her brother’s BB gun permanently blinded her right eye. Convinced that the resulting scar tissue in her eye was disfiguring and ugly, she retreated into solitude. She spent the next seven to eight years reading voraciously and writing poems. Walker was the valedictorian of her high school class, and when she was graduated in 1961, she was offered a scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta. After traveling to Africa in 1964, Walker returned to the United States and entered Sarah Lawrence College. She soon discovered that she was pregnant, and just as quickly she found herself depressed and on the verge of suicide. Walker made a decision to end the pregnancy instead of her life and subsequently wrote her first published short story, “To Hell with Dying.” She also produced Once (1965), her first published collection of poems, during her years at Sarah Lawrence.
While she was attending college, Walker spent her summers working for the Civil Rights movement in Georgia. She was graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965, and after graduation, she became even more involved in the Civil Rights movement. In 1967, Walker was married to lawyer Mel Leventhal and moved with him to Mississippi. Leventhal worked as a civil rights attorney in the Jackson school desegregation cases, and Walker worked with Head Start programs and held writer-in-residence positions at Tougaloo College and Jackson State University. She subsequently taught at Wellesley College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of California at Berkeley, and Brandeis University. In 1969, Walker’s only child, Rebecca, was born.
In 1970, while she was working on her short story “The Revenge of Hannah Kemhuff,” Alice Walker discovered the works of Zora Neale Hurston. Her discovery of Hurston had a profound effect on Walker. Walker described Hurston as her literary “foremother,” and in her essay “Zora Neale Hurston” (1979), Walker states that were she condemned to spend her life on a desert island with an allotment of only ten books, she would choose two of Hurston’s books: Mules and Men (1935) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). In August, 1973, Walker traveled to Florida to locate Hurston’s grave. She had a marker placed on the spot that was most likely Hurston’s grave and then dedicated herself to calling attention to Hurston’s genius. Through Walker’s efforts, Hurston’s work received the critical acclaim that it deserved.
In 1970, Walker published her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Although Grange Copeland is the protagonist of the novel, Walker focuses on his treatment of African American women. Walker’s main concerns in her novels are the powerlessness of African American women and sexist behavior on the part of men. In 1972, after the publication of The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Walker left Mississippi to teach at Wellesley College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
The following year, Walker published a book of poetry, Revolutionary Petunias (1973), for which she won the Lillian Smith Award....
(The entire section is 2055 words.)
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IntroductionAlice Walker was the eighth child of sharecroppers. Despite the economic hardships of her family, she was remarkably dedicated to her education and graduated with degrees from both Sarah Lawrence and Spelman College. While attending school, Walker became frustrated with the lack of literature on the culture and history of the black experience, so she challenged educational institutions to create a representative curriculum. In the 1960s, Walker became involved in the civil rights movement. Her experiences became the basis for her excellent novel Meridian. Her best-known work, however, is The Color Purple. Critics and audiences alike have praised its richly drawn female characters and seemingly effortless use of black vernacular. Although she has written six novels, Walker remains very active politically, championing women’s issues and women’s work.
- Alice Walker was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (1983) for her novel The Color Purple. The book was also turned into a successful film, garnering 11 Academy Award nominations.
- Walker and her then-husband Melvyn Leventhal, who was white and Jewish, were the first racially integrated couple to live in Mississippi.
- Walker did not simply complain about the lack of black studies in colleges. She created and taught the first class in the United States to be devoted to African-American women writers at Wellesley College.
- Walker has said that she considers herself to be a “pagan” or “an earth-worshipper.” She says she meditates daily and views Christmas as a celebration of the solstice.
- Walker coined the term womanist, a word she derived from the common phrase “you’re acting womanish.” Walker wants to turn the negative connotation of the phrase into something positive, so she defines womanist as “a woman who loves other women sexually or non-sexually and men sexually and non-sexually. Loves music, loves to dance...loves the spirit. A woman is to feminist as lavender is to purple.”
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Walker’s recurrent, controversial themes—violence in the black family, racism, and “womanism” among them—will always draw her mixed attention. The broad social scope of her work, from Georgia to Africa, from folklore to civil rights philosophy, will continue to influence the way readers perceive black women. Her bold literary experimentation and clarity of vision have earned acclaim for her work in spite of controversy. Above all else, Walker strives for honest portrayals in her work, believing that truth makes even the painful tellable, and curable in the telling.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Alice Malsenior Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, to sharecropper parents on February 9, 1944. She attended Spelman College in Atlanta on scholarship, transferring to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, from which she was graduated in 1965. While working in the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi in the summer of 1966, she met Melvyn Rosenman Levanthal, an attorney, whom she married in 1967. After residing for seven years in Jackson, Mississippi, the couple returned to the East in 1974, where Walker served as a contributing editor to Ms. magazine. The two were divorced in 1976, sharing joint custody of a daughter, Rebecca. Walker cofounded a publishing house in Navarro, California, Wild Trees Press. She has been a...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Alice Malsenior Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, on February 9, 1944, the last of eight children of Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker, sharecroppers in rural Georgia. Her relationship with her father, at first strong and valuable, became strained as she became involved in the civil rights and feminist movements. A moving depiction of her estrangement from her father occurs in her essay “My Father’s Country Is the Poor,” which appeared in The New York Times in 1977. For Walker, a loving and healthy mother-daughter relationship has endured over the years. An account of that relationship is central to her essays “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” and “Lulls—A Native Daughter Returns to the Black...
(The entire section is 789 words.)
Alice Walker wrote her first book of poetry and published her first short story in her final year at Sarah Lawrence College in 1968. Her works have come from her own experience and accomplishment. She grew up in poverty, in which seven brothers and sisters and her sharecropping parents shared impossibly cramped quarters and worked for profit that was never their own. She experienced the inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr. She was asked to sit in the back of the bus on her way to Spelman College. She saw the failure of her college to offer courses in African American authors. This experience prompted her to write and to teach courses on black women writers whose works both African Americans and other Americans need to read....
(The entire section is 355 words.)
Biography (Women's Issues (Ready Reference series))
While Alice Walker’s focus is African American women, her works are calls for universal human dignity. In her poetry and essay collections—such as Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973), In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983), and Living by the Word (1988)—she also expresses concern for the environment, animal rights, and world peace. A strong spiritual element can be found in her work, as well as an enduring message of hope.
Walker’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Alice Malsenior Walker was the youngest of eight children born to a Georgia sharecropper and his wife. Her father earned about three hundred dollars per year, while her mother, the stronger figure, supplemented the family income by working as a maid. Walker herself was a bright, confident child until an accident at age eight blinded her in one eye and temporarily marred her beauty. At this time, she established what was to become a lifelong pattern of savoring solitude and making the most of adversity. She started reading and writing poetry.
Because of her partial blindness and her outstanding high school record, Walker qualified for a special scholarship offered to disabled students by Spelman College, the prestigious...
(The entire section is 564 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Alice Malsenior Walker identifies herself as a “womanist”—that is, by her definition, as a black feminist who seriously concerns herself with the double oppression of racism and sexism. These two themes dominate Walker’s poetry, fiction, and prose. Born in 1944 to Georgia sharecroppers, Minnie Lue and Willie Lee (memorialized in Goodnight, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning), Walker grew up in the small town of Eatonton. Her childhood was scarred, literally and figuratively, by a BB gun wound to her eye when she was eight years old. Although the scar and loss of sight were partially repaired by an operation when she was fourteen, Walker acknowledges the part played by this accident in her becoming a writer....
(The entire section is 1081 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia, the eighth and youngest child of Willie Lee and Minnie Grant Walker. Eatonton was a small, poor town, and the Walkers made their living by sharecropping cotton, a way of life that earned the family about three hundred dollars a year. Walker learned early the oppression of economic deprivation coupled with the southern reality of white domination.
Despite adverse circumstances, Walker developed into a pretty, precocious child who excelled in school. Her self-image received a life-changing blow, however, when she was eight years old and her brother...
(The entire section is 1195 words.)