Alice Walker Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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 writer-in-residence and a teacher of black studies at Jackson State College (1968-1969), a lecturer in literature at Wellesley College and the University of Massachusetts at Boston (1972-1973), a distinguished writer in the African American studies department at the University of California at Berkeley (1982), and a Fannie Hurst Professor of Literature at Brandeis University (1982). She coproduced a 1992 film documentary, Warrior Marks, directed by Pratibha Parmar, a film she narrated and for which she wrote the script. Walker settled in Mendocino, California, where she continued to write and remained politically active.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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 South” and in Mary Helen Washington’s article “Her Mother’s Gifts,” in which Walker acknowledges that she often writes with her mother’s voice—“Just as you have certain physical characteristics of your motherwhen you’re compelled to write her stories, it’s because you recognize and prize those qualities of her in yourself.”

One of the central events in Walker’s childhood was a BB gun accident that left her, at age eight, blind in one eye. Scar tissue from that wound, both physical and psychological, seems to have left her with a compensating acuteness of vision, despite the conviction that she was permanently disfigured. Walker was affected enough by the accident to say in a 1974 interview with John O’Brien, “I have always been a solitary person, and since I was eight years old (and the recipient of a disfiguring scar, since corrected, somewhat), I have daydreamed—not of fairy-tales—but of falling on swords, of putting guns to my heart or head, and of slashing my wrists with a razor.” Walker’s partial blindness allowed her to attend Spelman College in Atlanta on a scholarship for the handicapped, following her graduation from Butler-Baker High School in 1961....

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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.

Walker, like the character Meridian in her second novel, considered physical violence a solution to the inequities with which she and other Americans were expected to live. She studied the Cuban Revolution and its effects. She, like Meridian, found herself unable, however, to perpetuate the violence she loathed. In The Third Life of Grange Copeland, The Color Purple, and The Temple of My Familiar she dramatizes the conditions that occasion violence and the horrors that result from violence. In Possessing the Secret of Joy she graphically describes the life-crippling effects of the ritualized and continued violence of female genital mutilation. Meridian chooses, as Walker has chosen, a political activism that is peaceful and positive. Meridian goes to the South to educate, enlist, and assist prospective but fearful African American voters. Walker returned to the South with a similar purpose in the mid-1960’s. Walker’s writing, her study of world cultures, and her speaking engagements around the world show her continued peaceful political activism.

Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple has proven itself, thanks partly to its film adaptation, the most popular presentation of her life-affirming philosophy. It draws upon African and Native American ideas of celebration and nurturance of the earth. The novel opposes the ideas too common to the European and the European American cultures: denigration and destruction of self, others, and the earth.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

Author Profile

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 is reflected in her fiction, especially the novel Meridian (1976), but national prominence came with her Pulitzer Prize- winning novel The Color Purple (1982), an exploration of racism and violence against women. She worked with Steven Spielberg on the 1985 film version, which some critics accused of watering down the novel’s feminist stance.

Walker’s focus on violence against women has been criticized by some African American men for repeatedly presenting black men as abusive and insensitive to black women. Often cited are such short stories as “Coming Apart” and “Porn” from You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down (1981), which portray self-absorbed husbands and lovers unaware of the pain that their use of pornography causes the women in their lives. Walker’s novel Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992), dedicated “with tenderness and respect to the blameless Vulva,” deals with the individual, social, and political costs of female genital mutilation.


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.

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, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O’Connor. Argues that Walker, like these other southern writers, examines the tendency to support social and religious codes at the expense of individual fulfillment.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Alice Walker. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. An important collection of critical essays examining the fiction, poetry, and essays of Walker from a variety of perspectives. The fourteen essays, including Bloom’s brief introduction, are arranged chronologically. Contains useful discussions of the first three novels, brief analyses of individual short stories, poems, and essays, and assessments of Walker’s social and political views in connection with her works and other African American female authors. A chronology of Walker’s life and a bibliography may be of assistance to the beginner.

Bloxham, Laura J. “Alice [Malsenior] Walker.” In Contemporary Fiction Writers of the South, edited by Joseph M. Flora and Robert Bain. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. A general introduction to Walker’s “womanist” themes of oppression of black women and change through affirmation of self. Provides a brief summary and critique of previous criticism of Walker’s work.

Borgmeier, Raimund. “Alice Walker: ‘Everyday Use.’” In The African-American Short Story: 1970 to 1990, edited by Wolfgang Karrer and Barbara...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

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.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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....

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(Novels for Students)

Alice Walker was born in the rural community of Eatonton, Georgia, in 1944. Most of Eatonton's residents were tenant farmers. When she was...

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(Short Stories for Students)

Walker's short story "Everyday Use" contains several important parallels to the author's own life. Born in 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia, Walker...

(The entire section is 329 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Born and raised in a poor community in the rural South, Alice Malsenior Walker may have seemed an unlikely candidate to become such a...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226312-Walker_A.jpg Alice Walker Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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 accidentally shot her in the right eye with a BB gun during a game of cowboys and Indians. Although rendered...

(The entire section is 1193 words.)