Alice Walker

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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 When I Am Laughing and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader (1979) did much to revive interest in the fiction of Zora Neale Hurston, the writer she considers one of the major influences on her fiction.

Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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 lifetime achievement (1990), the Freedom to Write Award (1990), the California Governor’s Arts Award (1994), and the Literary Ambassador Award (1998).

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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...

(The entire section is 3,216 words.)