Biography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 625

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...

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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 the Yale Award in 1942. She married Firnist James Alexander in 1944 and later had four children. In these years, she taught at Livingston College in North Carolina and West Virginia State College, moving to take a position at Jackson State College (now University) in 1949, where she remained until she retired in 1979. She returned to the University of Iowa to earn a Ph.D. in 1965. Her dissertation was Jubilee (1966), which showed great debts to African American folklore and to numerous writers such as James Weldon Johnson, Roland Hayes, Paul Robeson, Zora Neale Hurston, and Arna Bontemps. She read the Bible and the holy works Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, Gilgamesh, Book of the Dead, and Sundiata. She also read Civil War history and once announced that her choice of the five greatest thinkers of the twentieth century were Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Einstein, and Du Bois. Jubilee was commercially published in 1966 and would eventually sell more than two million copies in seven languages. For My People and Jubilee brought her prestige, fame, and eventually a certain amount of money. Moreover, she was one of the voices of the African American revolution in the United States during the 1960’s that produced so many leaders and martyrs. The poems she wrote were published in Prophets for a New Day (1970). More books followed: poetry in October Journey (1973), and A Poetic Equation: Conversations Between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker (1974). The Walker-Giovanni contrast represents the transformation of the themes of African American writing from brooding to militance in the 1970’s. Walker established at Jackson State University the Institute for the Study of Black Life and Culture, which was later renamed to commemorate her. In 1989, she brought out a collection of her poems, This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems. Other late books were How I Wrote “Jubilee,” and Other Essays on Life and Literature (1990) and On Being Female, Black, and Free: Essays by Margaret Walker, 1932-1992 (1997). The posthumous publication of Conversations with Margaret Walker in 2002 is as close as Walker got to the publication of the autobiography she intended to write. Though Walker died in Chicago, where she had moved in 1998 to be in the care of her daughter, she lived in Mississippi and in the American South, because, she said, it was her home.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 91

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.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 466

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, Walker’s poem “For My People” was published in Poetry.

In 1939, Walker enrolled in the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she completed her collection For My People. She received an M.A. in 1940, then taught briefly at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, and at West Virginia State College. On June 13, 1943, she married Firnist James Alexander. They had four children.

In 1949, Walker joined the English department at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University) in Mississippi. She would remain on the faculty until her retirement in 1979. In 1962, however, she took a two-year leave so that she could enter a doctoral program at the University of Iowa. After submitting the completed manuscript of Jubilee as her dissertation, in June, 1965, she was awarded a Ph.D.

Throughout her life, Walker was plagued by ill health, and her later years were further darkened by the failure of a lawsuit charging Alex Haley with plagiarism; by the death of her husband in 1980; and by a long conflict with the widow of Wright, which was finally resolved in 1988. However, Walker continued to publish significant works, but also was honored by groups all over the United States. Her happiest times, however, were those spent with her children and her grandchildren. In June, 1998, she was diagnosed with cancer, and she moved to Chicago so that her oldest daughter could care for her. Walker died there on November 30. On December 4, she was buried in Jackson, Mississippi.

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