Alice Walker 1944–
Black American novelist, short story writer, poet, and editor.
Walker is a highly regarded writer of powerfully expressive fiction. Her work consistently reflects her concern with racial, sexual, and political issues, particularly with the black woman's struggle for spiritual and political survival. Born into a large family of sharecroppers in the Deep South, Walker managed to obtain a college education in spite of poverty. Her political awareness, her Southern heritage, and her sense of the culture and history of her people form the thematic base of her material.
Walker's poetry, like her short stories, is praised for its honesty and depth of feeling but her literary reputation rests largely on her novels, especially the recently published The Color Purple (1982). Her most acclaimed work to date, this novel was awarded both the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
The Color Purple, which is noted for its authentic use of black dialect, explores and expands upon concerns introduced in Walker's earlier works. Like her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970) and many of the short stories collected in You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (1981), The Color Purple portrays the devastating effects of racial and sexual oppression. Walker, who has said that black women are the only people she respects "collectively and with no reservations," in this novel shows an intense empathy for the black woman who faces violent subjugation by black men, as well as white racists. Walker advocates "bonding" between black women as a defense against such oppression. Although grim in many respects, the overriding message of this novel is that "love redeems." While she spares no detail of the violence and painful hardships in the lives she portrays, Walker has a keen eye for the beauty and grace found in the most ordinary people or objects.
(See also CLC, Vols. 5, 6, 9, 19; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 9; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 6.)