Publication History and Reception: “Everyday Use” was published in Walker’s first short story collection, In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, in 1973. Like much of Walker’s work, “Everyday Use” approaches universal themes from the particular circumstances of black American women. “Everyday Use” is anthologized often, and critics consider it one of Walker’s best short stories.
- Alice Walker, Contemporary Writer and Activist: Born in Georgia in 1944, Alice Walker is an internationally celebrated writer, poet, and activist. Walker is the daughter of sharecroppers and the youngest of eight children. She attended Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College on scholarships and graduated in 1965. Her novel The Color Purple was published in 1982 and was awarded both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year. Walker’s written work includes novels, poetry, and essays. Her work commonly addresses themes of social justice, female empowerment, and racial equality. Walker identifies herself and her work with “womanism,” a movement that values the intersectionality between feminism and civil rights.
The Civil Rights Movement and Afrocentrism: The Civil Rights Movement that occurred over the course of the 1950s and ‘60s caused many legal and cultural shifts in American racial dynamics. Though black Americans were granted equal protection under federal laws in the aftermath of the Civil War, and the Fifteenth Amendment granted black men the right to vote, many continued to face tremendous prejudice and segregation. For at least a century after the end of the Civil War, Jim Crow laws jeopardized the safety, education, employment, and shelter of black Americans across the South.
- The myriad voices of the Civil Rights Movement held different views as to how to best resist oppression and segregation in the United States. Some activists, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., advocated for working cooperatively with the governing systems already in place. Others, such as Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, advocated for a rejection of white American culture. Still others, such as the Black Panthers, condoned a military approach. As the 1960s progressed, conflict between Civil Rights groups increased regarding whether nonviolence and interracialism were shared goals. Through a combination of boycotts, demonstrations, and legal challenges, the Civil Rights Movement saw public schools desegregated, interracial marriage legalized, and voting rights protected. Key legal developments included the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled enforced racial segregation to be unconstitutional, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- The 1960s also marked the advent of Afrocentrism, a cultural movement that celebrates the shared culture and history that exists across people of African heritage. As part of the movement, many black Americans took African names, began celebrating Kwanzaa, stopped straightening their hair, and traded American-style clothing for vibrant, African-inspired prints. “Black is Beautiful” was a prominent slogan of the movement.