Margaret Walker Biography


Margaret Abigail Walker Alexander was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on July 7, 1915. Her Methodist minister father was Sigismund Constantine Walker. Her mother was Marion Dozier, a musician and teacher. Her maternal grandmother, Elvira Ware Dozier, was the source of Walker’s deep sense of participating in the history of African Americans. The family moved to New Orleans in 1925, and she attended Model School, part of New Orleans University. She began writing when she was twelve, filling a “datebook” given to her by her father. She went to New Orleans University (now Dillard University) and then on to Northwestern University for a B.A. in English in 1934. Edward Buell Hungerford at Northwestern was among her most influential writing teachers. Her first poem was published in W. E. B. Du Bois’s magazine, The Crisis. In March, 1935, she began an important time in the South Side (Chicago) Writers’ Group of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Here she met James T. Farrell, Studs Terkel, Frank Yerby, and Saul Bellow. She finished “For My People” in 1937, publishing it in Poetry that same year. In these years, she would come to know Dudley Randall, Stephen Vincent Benet, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Richard Wright, a biography of whom, Richard Wright: Daemonic Genius, she would publish in 1987. In 1939, she went to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop for an M.A. Accepted as her thesis was a collection of poems, For My People, published as the winner of...

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Margaret Walker set out to have a significant life as writer and spokesperson for African Americans and humanity in general. With the advantage of extraordinary parents, great natural talent, early discovery by cultural leaders, and intense personal discipline, she succeeded. Her discourse is personal and oral and proletarian. In her writing, from poetry to fiction, literary and cultural criticism, and formal biography, she constructs a lyric presence, making herself, as much as African Americans and all other races, the subject of her writing with an art rarely equaled in the canon.


Margaret Abigail Walker was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on July 7, 1915. She was the first of four children of the Reverend Sigismund Constantine Walker, a Methodist minister originally from Jamaica, and Marion Dozier Walker, a musician and teacher. From her scholarly father, Margaret acquired her love of reading, while her mother helped her to develop a sensitivity to the rhythms of music and of poetry. After Margaret’s birth, Marion’s mother, Elvira Ware Dozier, moved in with the family; it was from her that Margaret heard the family stories that she later incorporated into Jubilee.

In 1920, the Walkers moved to Meridian, Mississippi, and enrolled Margaret in first grade. Five years later, the family moved to New Orleans. After graduating from Gilbert Academy in 1930, Margaret enrolled in New Orleans University (now Dillard University), but two years later, she transferred to Northwestern University. In 1934, she published her first poem in W. E. B. Du Bois’s magazine The Crisis. In a creative writing class her senior year, Margaret wrote the first draft of Jubilee. In August, 1935, she received a B.A. in English, and the following March, she began working for the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration. Soon afterward, she joined the (Chicago) South Side Writers Group. During this period, Walker met many writers who would become famous, among them Richard Wright, whom she befriended. In 1937,...

(The entire section is 466 words.)