• Birth—February 9, 1944
• Where—Eatonton, Georgia, USA
• Education—B.A., Sarah Lawrence College
• Awards—National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, 1983;The
Lillian Smith Award from the National Endowment for the
Arts; The Rosenthal Award from the National Institute of
Arts & Letters; The Radcliffe Institute Fellowship, the
Merrill Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship
• Currently—San Francisco, California
Alice Malsenior Walker is an American author and feminist. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 for her critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple.
Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, the eighth child of sharecroppers. As well as being African American, her family has Cherokee, Scottish and Irish lineage. Although she grew up in Georgia, she has stated that she often felt displaced there.
In her book Alice Walker: A Life, author Evelyn C. White talks about an incident when Walker, who was eight year old at the time, was injured when her brother accidentally shot her in the eye with a BB gun. She became blinded in one eye as a result. In the book, White suggests this event had a large impact on Walker, especially when a white doctor in town swindled her parents out of $250 they paid to repair her injury. Walker refers to this incident in her book Warrior Marks, a chronicle of female genital mutilation in Africa, and uses it to illustrate the sacrificial marks women bear that allow them to be "warriors" against female suppression.
After high school, Walker went to Spelman College in Atlanta on full scholarship in 1961 and later transferred up north to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, graduating in 1965. Walker became interested in the U.S. civil rights movement in part due to the influence of activist Howard Zinn, who was one of her professors at Spelman College. Continuing the activism that she participated in during her college years, Walker returned to the South where she became involved with voter registration drives, campaigns for welfare rights, and children's programs in Mississippi.
In 1965, Walker met and later married Mel Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer. They became the first legally married inter-racial couple in Mississippi . This brought them a steady stream of harassment and even murderous threats from the Ku Klux Klan. The couple had a daughter, Rebecca in 1969, divorcing 9 years later.
Walker's first book of poetry was written while she was still a senior at Sarah Lawrence, and she took a brief sabbatical from writing when she was in Mississippi working in the civil rights movement. Walker resumed her writing career when she joined Ms. Magazine as an editor before moving to northern California in the late 1970s. An article she published in 1975 was largely responsible for the renewal of interest in the work of Zora Neale Hurston, who was a large source of inspiration for Walker's writing and subject matter. In 1973, Walker and fellow Hurston scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered Hurston's unmarked grave in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Both women paid for a modest headstone for the gravesite.
In addition to her collected short stories and poetry, Walker's first work of fiction, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, was published in 1970. In 1976, Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published. The novel dealt with activist workers in the South during the civil rights movement, and closely paralleled some of Walker's own experiences.
In 1982, Walker would publish what has become her best-known work, the novel The Color Purple. The story of a young black woman fighting her way through not only racist white culture but patriarchal black culture was a resounding commercial success. The book became a bestseller and was subsequently adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie as well as a 2005 Broadway musical.
Walker wrote several other novels, including The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing The Secret of Joy (which featured several characters and descendants of characters from The Color Purple) and has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other published work.
Her works typically focus on the struggles of African Americans, particularly women, and their struggle against a racist, sexist, and violent society. Her writings also focus on the role of women of color in culture and history. Walker is a respected figure in the liberal political community for her support of unconventional and unpopular views as a matter of principle.
Additionally, Walker has published several short stories, including the 1973 "Everyday Use: for your grandmama." This story contains Walker's traditional subjects of feminism and racism against African Americans.She has one child, Rebecca Walker, from her marriage to Mel Leventhal. Rebecca is also an author and in 2000 published a memoir entitled Black White and Jewish, chronicling her parents' relationship and how it affected her childhood. Musician/Comedian Reggie Watts is Walker's second cousin;
Walker discussed her love affair with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman in a December 2006 interview with The Guardian, explaining why they did not go public with their relationship, saying "[the relationship] was delicious and lovely and wonderful and I totally enjoyed it and I was completely in love with her but it was not anybody's business but ours."
In 1983, The Color Purple won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making Walker the first African-American woman to win, as well as the National Book Award. Walker also won the 1986 O. Henry Award for her short story "Kindred Spirits", published in Esquire magazine in August of 1985. She has also received a number of other awards for her body of work (see above).
Most recently, on December 6, 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Alice Walker into the California Hall of Fame located at The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts.
Existing criticism of Walker's work has centered largely on the depiction of African American men, in particular relating to the novel The Color Purple. When The Color Purple was published, there was some criticism of the portrayal of male characters in the book. The main concern of much of the criticism was that the book appeared to depict the male characters as either mean and abusive (Albert/"Mister") or as buffoons (Harpo). This criticism intensified when the film was released, as the narrative of the film cut a significant portion of the eventual resolution and reconciliation between Albert and Celie.
Walker addressed some of these criticisms in The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult 1996. The book was a semi-autobiography, discussing specific events in Walker's life, as well as the perspective of experiencing reaction to The Color Purple twice, once as a book and then as the movie was made. The book also chronicled her struggle with Lyme disease. (From Wikipedia.)
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