Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
What is the spiritual element in Alice Walker’s work? How is God envisioned in The Color Purple? In The Temple of My Familiar?
What forces does Walker identify as hostile to African American women?
What characteristics identify her later novels as experimental?
What is Walker’s definition of a good community, from the descriptions in her novels of community building?
Do Walker’s stories have villains? What characterizes her “worst” people?
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Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Alice Walker is known for her achievements in both prose and poetry; in addition to her short-story collections, she has published several novels, volumes of poetry, collections of essays, and children’s books. Her novels The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), Meridian (1976), The Color Purple (1982), The Temple of My Familiar (1989), Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992), and By the Light of My Father’s Smile (1998) examine the struggles of African Americans, especially African American women, against destruction by a racist society. Her poetry is collected in Once: Poems (1968), Five Poems (1972), Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973), Goodnight, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning: Poems (1979), Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1984), and Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems, 1965-1990 (1991). In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983) is a collection of essays important to an understanding of Walker’s purposes and methods as well as the writers influential on her fiction. A later collection of nonfiction prose is Living by the Word: Selected Writings, 1973-1987 (1988). Walker also wrote Langston Hughes: American Poet (1974), To Hell with Dying (1988), and Finding the Green Stone (1991) for children. The anthology she edited entitled I Love Myself...
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
From the beginning of her career, Alice Walker has been an award-winning writer. Her first published essay, “The Civil Rights Movement: What Good Was It?” won first prize in The American Scholar’s annual essay contest in 1967. That same year she won a Merrill writing fellowship. Her first novel was written on a fellowship at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. In 1972, she received a Ph.D. from Russell Sage College. Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems was nominated for a National Book Award and won the Lillian Smith Award of the Southern Regional Council in 1973. In Love and Trouble won the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award from the American Institute of Arts and Letters in 1974. The Color Purple, which remained on The New York Times list of best-sellers for more than twenty-five weeks, was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won both an American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Walker’s many honors include a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1969 and 1977, a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship in 1971-1973, and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1977-1978. In 1984, she received a Best Books for Young Adults citation from the American Library Association for In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. She has also won the O. Henry Award (1986), the Langston Hughes Award (1989), the Nora Astorga Leadership Award (1989), the Fred Cody Award for...
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Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Alice Walker has published many volumes of short fiction, poetry, and essays in addition to her novels, as well as several children’s books. Walker was an early editor at Ms. magazine, in which many of her essays first appeared. Her interest in the then little-known writer Zora Neale Hurston led her to take a pilgrimage to Florida to place a tombstone on Hurston’s unmarked grave and to her editing of I Love Myself When I Am Laughingand Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader (1979); she also provided an introduction to Robert Hemenway’s Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography (1977). In her collection of essays titled We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Light in a Time of Darkness (2006), Walker advocates an appreciation for the times in which we live, when social, political, and environmental progress is needed and can be made.
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Alice Walker’s literary reputation is based primarily on her fiction, although her second book of poetry, Revolutionary Petunias, and Other Poems (1973), received the Lillian Smith Award and a nomination for a National Book Award. Her first short-story collection, In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973), won the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In addition, Walker has been the recipient of a Charles Merrill writing fellowship, an award for fiction from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She has also been a Bread Loaf Scholar and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute. Walker’s books have been translated into more than twenty-four languages.
Her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, was widely and enthusiastically reviewed in publications as varied as The New Yorker, The New Republic, and The New York Times Book Review, although journals aimed primarily at a black readership were often silent on the work or critical of its violence and graphic depiction of rural black life. With the publication of Meridian, Walker’s second novel, her work as a poet, novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, scholar, and political activist came together. Meridian was universally praised in scholarly journals, literary magazines, popular magazines, and black-oriented journals. Some critics, mainly black male reviewers,...
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Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Although Alice Walker’s poetry is cherished by her admirers, she is primarily known as a fiction writer. The novel The Color Purple (1982), generally regarded as her masterpiece, achieved both popular and critical success, winning the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. The Steven Spielberg film of the same name, for which Walker acted as consultant, reached an immense international audience.
Other Walker fiction has received less attention. Her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), depicts violence and family dysfunction among people psychologically maimed by racism. Meridian (1976) mirrors the Civil Rights movement, of which the youthful Walker was actively a part. Later novels, The Temple of My Familiar (1989), Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992), and By the Light of My Father’s Smile (1998) have employed narrative as little more than a vehicle for ideas on racial and sexual exploitation, abuse of animals and the earth, and New Age spirituality. In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973) and You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down (1981) revealed Walker to be one of the finest of late twentieth century American short-story writers. She also has written an occasional children’s book (To Hell with Dying, 1988, is particularly notable) and several collections of essays (In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose, 1983, is...
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
At numerous colleges, as a teacher and writer-in-residence, Alice Walker established herself as a mentor, particularly to young African American women. Her crusades became international. To alert the world to the problem of female circumcision in Africa, she collaborated with an Anglo-Indian filmmaker on a book and film. She has been a voice for artistic freedom, defending her own controversial writings and those of others, such as Salman Rushdie. In her writings and later open lifestyle, she affirmed lesbian and bisexual experience. However, the accomplishment in which she took the most pride was her resurrection of the reputation of Zora Neale Hurston, a germinal African American anthropologist and novelist, whose books had gone out of print.
Walker won the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters for In Love and Trouble and received a Charles Merrill writing fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her second book of poetry, Revolutionary Petunias, and Other Poems, received the Lillian Smith Award and was nominated for a National Book Award. Her highest acclaim came with the novel The Color Purple, for which she won the National Book Award and the 1983 Pulitzer Prize. She received the Fred Cody Award for lifetime achievement in 1990. Walker was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2006.
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Awkward, Michael. Inspiriting Influences: Tradition, Revision, and Afro-American Women’s Novels. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. Though dense, Awkward’s book may be useful in placing Walker within the context of her African American literary heritage and in providing some possibilities for interpreting The Color Purple and for understanding the connections among Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, and Walker. The book is laden with critical jargon but is nevertheless important in placing Walker in context historically, thematically, and politically. Awkward emphasizes the creative spirit of African American females and their search for self in a nonpatriarchal community as themes of Walker’s fiction. Endnotes may lead researchers to other useful materials on Walker’s fiction as well as on works by and on other African American women.
Bates, Gerri. Alice Walker: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005. A well-crafted biography that discussed Walker’s major works, tracing the themes of her novels to her life.
Bauer, Margaret D. “Alice Walker: Another Southern Writer Criticizing Codes Not Put to ‘Everyday Use.’” Studies in Short Fiction 29 (Spring, 1992): 143-151. Discusses parallels between Walker’s In Love and Trouble and stories by William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter,...
(The entire section is 1536 words.)