Alice Walker

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Walker, Alice (Vol. 6)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Walker, Alice 1944–

Ms Walker is a Black American novelist, poet, and short story writer. Much of her writing reveals her concerns with Black women and families; her novel The Third Life of Grange Copeland was praised for its honesty and eloquence. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40.)

Alice Walker's graphic first novel ["The Third Life of Grange Copeland"] delivers a powerful statement by letting the narrative, characters and episodes speak for themselves. In describing the lives of black sharecroppers from 1920 through the 1960s, [Miss Walker] … could have taken the easy, tiresome way out by haranguing for militancy, revenge and separatism. Instead, she allows the reader to make his own assessment of Southern conditions and the desperate need for change.

Miss Walker's haunting tale of three generations of a sharecropper's family attempting to overcome white oppression is candid, sensitive and tragic. Inevitably, one wonders how much of it is drawn from her own experiences as the youngest of a Georgia sharecropper's eight children. (pp. 19-20)

Miss Walker's novel—infused with poetic images that unfold visually as though performed on stage—is remarkably similar to Athol Fugard's excellent play, Boesman and Lena. In both works the black wives, constantly forced to move their few tattered possessions from one makeshift home to another, are tormented mainly by their husbands rather than the world. In both, the characters are castoffs lurking on the fringes of an oppressive white society, who see life as a perpetual cycle of hope and despair….

Miss Walker deftly sculpts her people and delineates their relationships. Indeed, since they generally transcend the plot, the one episode involving civil rights workers seems an intrusion that neither advances the story nor enhances our understanding of the characters. Fortunately, it does not detract significantly from an otherwise compelling novel that emphasizes the humanity we share rather than the horrors of dehumanizing experiences. (p. 20)

Paula Meinetz Shapiro, "Pygmalion Revised," in The New Leader (© 1971 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), January 25, 1971, pp. 19-20.

Alice Walker writes from a world of experience which [no white poet] could possibly share. Reading [the poems in Once], I am again shocked into recognition of how the history of this country has, for a Black, created a reality in which color, rather than any individual consideration, has become the touchstone of identity. For it isn't only when Miss Walker writes about her experiences in Africa and the South that consciousness of color is ever-present; it is true also in some very personal poems. She is a sensitive, spirited, and intelligent poet. Feeling is channeled into a style that is direct and sharp, honest speech pared down to essentials. Her poems are like pencil sketches which are all graven outline: no shaded areas, no embellishments. Wit and tenderness combine into humanity…. In her foreign impressions especially—handled like terse entries in a travel journal—the divisions of the poems are often reminiscent of haiku in their economy:

                   The Noblest Savage
                    Erect
                    No shoes on his
                    feet
                    His pierced ears
                    Infected.

One would like to keep quoting such small beauties. (pp. 328-29)

Lisel Mueller, in Poetry (© 1971 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), February, 1971.

In 1966 Langston Hughes commented on one of Alice Walker's short stories: "Neither you nor I have ever read a story like 'To Hell with Dying' before. At least, I do not think you have." Hughes's early recognition of the uniqueness of Walker's artistic voice is equally applicable to the 12 other stories in Walker's … book, In Love & Trouble: Stories...

(The entire section is 1,423 words.)