Alice Walker

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At a Glance

Alice Walker was the eighth child of sharecroppers. Despite the economic hardships of her childhood, she was remarkably dedicated to her education and graduated with degrees from both Sarah Lawrence College and Spelman College. While attending school, Walker became frustrated with the lack of literature on the culture and history of the black experience, so she challenged educational institutions to create a representative curriculum. In the 1960s, Walker became involved in the civil rights movement. Her experiences became the basis for her 1976 novel Meridian. Her best-known work, however, is The Color Purple. Critics and audiences alike have praised its richly drawn female characters and seemingly effortless use of black vernacular. With six novels to her name, Walker remains very active politically, championing women’s issues and women’s work.

Facts and Trivia

  • Alice Walker was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1983) for her novel The Color Purple. The book was also turned into a successful film, garnering eleven Academy Award nominations.
  • Walker and her then-husband Melvyn Leventhal, who was white and Jewish, were the first racially integrated couple to live in Mississippi.
  • Walker did not simply complain about the lack of black studies in colleges. She created and taught the first class in the United States devoted to African American women writers at Wellesley College.
  • Walker says that she considers herself a “pagan” or “an earth-worshipper.” She says she meditates daily and views Christmas as a celebration of the solstice.
  • Walker coined the term womanist, a word she derived from the common phrase “you’re acting womanish.” Walker wants to turn the negative connotation of the phrase into something positive, so she defines womanist as “a woman who loves other women sexually or non-sexually and men sexually and non-sexually. Loves music, loves to dance... loves the spirit. A woman is to feminist as lavender is to purple.”

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Biography

(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Walker, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award, has dedicated her life to establishing a literary canon of African American women writers and to encouraging the “survival whole” of all women. She has actively sought to win recognition for literary “foremothers” such as Zora Neale Hurston and to place their contributions within the fabric of her own artistry.

Early Life

Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944, into a family of sharecroppers near Eatonton, Georgia. Her father, Willie Lee Walker, was the grandson of slaves. Walker’s enslaved paternal great-great-grandmother, Mary Poole, had walked from Virginia to Georgia carrying two of her children on her hips. Walker’s relationship with her father became strained as she grew into adolescence and showed a proclivity for intellectual pursuits. Although her father was brilliant, his educational opportunities had been limited, and he feared that education would place barriers between him and his children. When Walker left her home for Spelman College in Atlanta, her relationship with her father ended.

Minnie Tallulah Grant Walker, Walker’s mother, realized how important education was for her daughter. Minnie Walker, a farmhand and domestic worker, greatly desired an education for her daughter. She enrolled Walker in the first grade at the age of four and excused her from household chores so that she might have time for her reading and schoolwork. Minnie Walker saved the money she earned as a domestic in the town of Eatonton and bought several gifts that had a great impact upon her daughter’s life. These gifts included a sewing machine that enabled Walker to make her own clothes, a suitcase, and a typewriter, of which she later made good use.

When Walker was eight years old, a shot fired from her brother’s BB gun permanently blinded her right eye. Convinced that the resulting scar tissue in her eye was disfiguring and ugly, she retreated into solitude. She...

(The entire section is 3,135 words.)