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Alice Walker

Alice Malsenior Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist. She wrote the novel The Color Purple (1982) for which she won the National Book Award for hardcover fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[2][3] She also wrote the novels Meridian (1976) and The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), among other works.

Alice Walker
Alice Walker.jpg
Walker in 2007
Born (1944-02-09) February 9, 1944 (age 74)
Putnam County, Georgia, U.S.
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, poet, political activist
Alma mater Spelman College
Sarah Lawrence College
Period 1968–present
Genre African-American literature
Notable works The Color Purple
Notable awards

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

National Book Award
Spouse Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal (married 1967, divorced 1976)
Partner Robert L. Allen, Tracy Chapman
Children Rebecca Walker


Early lifeEdit

Walker was born in Putnam County, Georgia,[4] the youngest of eight children, to African-American sharecroppers Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Lou Tallulah Grant. Her father, who she described as "wonderful at math but a terrible farmer," earned only $300 ($4,000 in 2013 dollars) a year from sharecropping and dairy farming. Her mother supplemented the family income by working as a maid.[5] The family also had Native American ancestry, which Walker drew from in her writing and spirituality. Minnie Lou worked 11 hours a day for $17 per week to help pay for Alice to attend college.[6]

Living under Jim Crow laws, Walker's parents resisted landlords who expected the children of black sharecroppers to work in the fields at a young age. A white plantation owner said to her that black people had "no need for education". Minnie Lou Walker, according to her daughter, replied "You might have some black children somewhere, but they don't live in this house. Don't you ever come around here again talking about how my children don't need to learn how to read and write." Her mother enrolled Alice in first grade when the girl was four years old.[7]

Growing up with an oral tradition, listening to stories from her grandfather (who was the model for the character of "Mr." in The Color Purple), Walker began writing, very privately, when she was eight years old. "With my family, I had to hide things," she said. "And I had to keep a lot in my mind."[8]

In 1952, Walker was wounded in the right eye by a shot from a BB gun fired by one of her brothers.[9] In 2013, on BBC Radio's Desert Island Discs, she said the act was deliberate but she agreed to protect her brother against their parents' anger if they knew the truth. Because the family had no car, the Walkers could not take their daughter to a hospital for immediate treatment. By the time they reached a doctor a week later, she had become permanently blind in that eye. When a layer of scar tissue formed over her wounded eye, Alice became self-conscious and painfully shy. Stared at and sometimes taunted by other children, she felt like an outcast and turned for solace to reading and to writing poetry. When she was 14, the scar tissue was removed. She later became valedictorian and was voted most-popular girl, as well as queen of her senior class, but she realized that her traumatic injury had some value: it had allowed her to begin "really to see people and things, really to notice relationships and to learn to be patient enough to care about how they turned out".[5]

After high school, Walker went to Spelman College in Atlanta on a full scholarship in 1961 and later transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, graduating in 1966. Walker was strongly affected by becoming pregnant and having an abortion in the summer of 1965 before her senior year of college. She became severely depressed and determined to commit suicide. She struggled out of this experience by writing poems, which were published as Once (1968), her first book of poetry.[10]

Walker became interested in the Civil Rights Movement in part due to the influence of activist Howard Zinn, who was one of her professors at Spelman College. To continue the activism of her college years, Walker returned to the South from New York. She participated in voter registration drives, campaigns for welfare rights, and children's programs in Mississippi.[11]

On March 17, 1967, Walker married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a civil rights attorney who was also working in Mississippi. They married in New York City, as their inter-racial marriage was then illegal in the South. They had a daughter Rebecca together in 1969. During this period, Walker also worked as writer-in-residence at Jackson State College (1968–69) and Tougaloo College (1970–71), and was a consultant in black history to the Friends of the Children of Mississippi Head Start program. In the fall of 1972, she taught a course in Black Women's writers at the University of Massachusetts - Boston.[12]

Writing careerEdit

Walker wrote the poems of her first book of poetry, Once, while she was studying in East Africa and during her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College.[13] She took a brief sabbatical from writing while working in Mississippi in the civil rights movement.

Walker resumed her writing career when she joined Ms. magazine as an editor. In 1973, Walker and fellow Hurston scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered Zora Neale Hurston's unmarked grave in Ft. Pierce, Florida. The women chipped in to buy a modest headstone for the gravesite.[14] Walker's 1975 article "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston", published in Ms. magazine, helped revive interest in the work of this African-American writer and anthropologist.[15] Walker was inspired by Hurston, whose work and life influenced her subject matter.[16]

In addition to publishing her collected short stories and poetry in 1970, that year Walker published her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland. It explores the life of Grange Copeland, an abusive, irresponsible sharecropper, husband and father. In 1976, Walker's second novel Meridian was published. Meridian is a "semi-autobiographical narrative based upon Walker’s experience in the 1960s… [it] is her retrospective on the social, racial, and sexual upheavals that the Civil Rights and Black Power eras produced." The novel dealt with activist workers in the South during the civil rights movement, with events drawn closely parallel to some of Walker's own experiences.

In the late 1970s Walker moved to northern California. In 1982, she published what has become her best-known work, The Color Purple. The novel follows a young troubled black woman fighting her way through not just racist white culture but patriarchal black culture as well. The book became a bestseller and was subsequently adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg featuring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as a 2005 Broadway musical totaling 910 performances.

Walker is the co-founder of Wild Tree Press, a feminist publishing company in Anderson Valley, California. She and fellow writer Robert L. Allen founded it in 1984.[17]

Walker has written 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). She has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other writings. Her work is focused on the struggles of black people, particularly women, and their lives in a racist, sexist, and violent society. Walker is a leading figure in liberal politics.[18][19][20][21][22]

In 2007, Walker donated her papers, consisting of 122 boxes of manuscripts and archive material, to Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.[23] In addition to drafts of novels such as The Color Purple, unpublished poems and manuscripts, and correspondence with editors, the collection includes extensive correspondence with family members, friends and colleagues, an early treatment of the film script for The Color Purple, syllabi from courses she taught, and fan mail. The collection also contains a scrapbook of poetry compiled when Walker was 15, entitled "Poems of a Childhood Poetess."

In 2013, Alice Walker published two new books, one of them entitled The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm's Way. The other was a book of poems entitled The World Will Follow Joy Turning Madness into Flowers (New Poems).


Alice Walker (left) and Gloria Steinem on the fall 2009 cover of Ms. magazine

Walker met Martin Luther King Jr. when she was a student at Spelman College in the early 1960s. She credits King for her decision to return to the American South as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. She took part in the 1963 March on Washington. Later, she volunteered to register black voters in Georgia and Mississippi.[24][25]

On March 8, 2003, International Women's Day, on the eve of the Iraq War, Walker was arrested with 26 others, including fellow authors Maxine Hong Kingston and Terry Tempest Williams, at a protest outside the White House, for crossing a police line during an anti-war rally. In an interview with Democracy Now, Walker said, "I was with other women who believe that the women and children of Iraq are just as dear as the women and children in our families, and that, in fact, we are one family. And so it would have felt to me that we were going over to actually bomb ourselves." Walker wrote about the experience in her essay "We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For."[26]

Walker was greatly influenced by Zora Neale Hurston, and is credited with having "almost single handedly rescued Zora Neale Hurston from obscurity."[27] She called attention to Hurston's works, and helped revive the popularity and respect Hurston had received during the Harlem Renaissance. Walker was so moved by Hurston that she and another scholar arranged to have a tombstone put on her unmarked grave;[14] Walker had it inscribed "Southern Genius".[28]

Walker's feminism specifically included advocacy of women of color. In 1983, Walker coined the term "womanism" to mean "Black feminism". The term was made to unite colored feminists under one term. She said, "'Womanism' gives us a word of our own." [29]

In January 2009, she was one of over 50 signatories of a letter protesting the Toronto International Film Festival's "City to City" spotlight on Israeli filmmakers, and condemning Israel as an "apartheid regime."[30]

In March 2009, Walker and 60 other female activists from the anti-war group Code Pink traveled to Gaza in response to the Gaza War. Their purpose was to deliver aid, to meet with NGOs and residents, and to persuade Israel and Egypt to open their borders with Gaza. She wrote about her meeting with an elderly Palestinian woman who, upon accepting a gift from Walker, said: "May God protect you from the Jews." Walker responded, "It's too late, I already married one," referring to her former husband, a civil rights lawyer; they had divorced in 1976.[31][32][33] She planned to visit Gaza again in December 2009 to participate in the Gaza Freedom March.[34]

On June 23, 2011, she announced plans to participate in an aid flotilla to Gaza that attempted to break Israel's naval blockade.[35][36] She cited concern for the children and said that she felt that "elders" should bring "whatever understanding and wisdom we might have gained in our fairly long lifetimes, witnessing and being a part of struggles against oppression."[37][38] She is a judge member of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. Walker supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.[39] In 2012, Walker refused to authorize a Hebrew translation of her book The Color Purple, criticizing what she called Israel's "apartheid state."[40]

In May 2013, Walker posted an open letter to singer Alicia Keys, asking her to cancel a planned concert in Tel Aviv. "I believe we are mutually respectful of each other’s path and work," Walker wrote. "It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists." Keys rejected the plea.[41]

In June 2013, Walker and others appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning, an American soldier imprisoned for releasing classified information.[42]

Criticism of political views and actionsEdit

Walker's participation in the 2011 Gaza flotilla prompted an Op-Ed essay by American attorney and law professor Alan Dershowitz published June 21, 2012 in The Jerusalem Post. Headlined "Alice Walker’s bigotry", it accused her of a "long history of supporting terrorism against Israel". Dershowitz said that she had "now resorted to bigotry and censorship against Hebrew-speaking readers of her writings", comparing her refusal to allow a Hebrew translation of The Color Purple to "neo-Nazi author David Duke disallowing his books to be sold to Black and Jewish readers."[43] Dershowitz said that, by participating in the flotilla to evade the blockade, she was "provid[ing] material support for terrorism" and said that Walker "should not be permitted to get away with such bigotry. Nor should her actions be seen as morally elevated."[43]

Elisheva Goldberg, writing in the Daily Beast in July 2012, rejected Dershowitz's argument that Walker's refusal to allow the Hebrew translation meant she was anti-Semitic. Noting that Walker had been married to a Jew and had a half-Jewish daughter, and that The Color Purple was adapted as a film directed by Jewish filmmaker Steven Spielberg, Goldberg said: "Alice Walker is not boycotting Jews. She is not even boycotting Israelis. She is boycotting the government of Israel. She is boycotting what she sees as state-subsidized symbols of racism that remind her of Apartheid South Africa."[44] To call Walker an anti-Semite, Goldberg said, was to "devalue" her own grandfather's suffering at Treblinka concentration camp.[44]

The Anti-Defamation League described The Cushion in the Road, Walker's 2013 book on meditation, as antisemitic and anti-Israel.[45][46] Its reviewer said:

She [Walker] has taken her extreme and hostile views to a shocking new level, revealing the depth of her hatred of Jews and Israel to a degree that we have not witnessed before. Her descriptions of the conflict are so grossly inaccurate and biased that it seems Walker wants the uninformed reader to come away sharing her hate-filled conclusions.[47]

In 2013, Walker was invited to speak at the University of Michigan, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the university's Center for the Education of Women, but the offer was rescinded. Walker said that the invitation was rescinded because university donors disapproved of her views on Israel, but the director of the Center said that pressure from donors had played no part in its decision.[48] Walker was invited shortly thereafter to speak at a different event at the university.[49]

In May 2013 Walker expressed appreciation for the works of David Icke.[50][51][52] On BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, she said that Icke's book Human Race Get Off Your Knees (in which he claims that Earth's moon is a "gigantic spacecraft" transmitting "fake reality broadcast[s] much the same way as portrayed in the Matrix movie trilogy") would be her choice if she could have only one book.[53] Walker has also praised this book on her website. She said that upon reading the book she "felt it was the first time I was able to observe, and mostly imagine and comprehend, the root of the incredible evil that has engulfed our planet."[50][54] Jonathan Kay of the National Post said that Walker's public praise for Icke's book was "stunningly offensive" and that by taking it seriously, she was disqualifying herself "from the mainstream marketplace of ideas."[55]

Personal lifeEdit

In 1965, Walker met Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer. They were married on March 17, 1967, in New York City. Later that year the couple relocated to Jackson, Mississippi, becoming the first legally married inter-racial couple in Mississippi.[56][57] They were harassed and threatened by whites, including the Ku Klux Klan.[58][page needed] The couple had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1969. Walker and her husband divorced in 1976.[59]

In the mid-1990s, Walker was involved in a romance with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman, saying "It 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."[60] Walker has said she is bisexual out of curiosity.[citation needed]

Walker wrote, "At one point I learned Transcendental Meditation. This was 30-something years ago. It took me back to the way that I naturally was as a child growing up way in the country, rarely seeing people. I was in that state of oneness with creation and it was as if I didn't exist except as a part of everything."[61]

Representation in other mediaEdit

Beauty in Truth (2013) is a documentary film about Walker directed by Pratibha Parmar.

Awards and honorsEdit

Selected worksEdit


  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference paperback was invoked but never defined (see the help page).


  1. ^ "Alice Walker". Desert Island Discs. May 19, 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved January 18, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "National Book Awards - 1983". National Book Foundation. Retrieved March 15, 2012. (With essays by Anna Clark and Tarayi Jones from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  3. ^ a b "Fiction". Past winners and finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  4. ^ Logue, Victoria, and Frank Logue (1997). Touring the Backroads of North and South Georgia. Winston-Salem NC: John F. Blair. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-89587-171-8. 
  5. ^ a b World Authors 1995-2000, 2003. Biography Reference Bank database. Retrieved April 10, 2009.
  6. ^ Walker, Alice (May 6, 2010). "Alice Walker". The Tavis Smiley Show. The Smiley Group. 
  7. ^ White, Evelyn C. (2004). Alice Walker: A Life. New York: W.W. Norton. pp. 14–15. 
  8. ^ Gussow, Mel (December 26, 2000). "Once Again, Alice Walker Is Ready to Embrace Her Freedom to Change". The New York Times. p. E1. 
  9. ^ The Officers of the Alice Walker Literary Society. "About Alice Walker". Alice Walker Literary Society. Retrieved June 15, 2015. 
  10. ^ Alice Walker and John O'Brien, "Alice Walker: An Interview". In Ellen McGeagh and Linda Pavlovski (eds), Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives, Past and Present. Vol. 30. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. Literature Resource Center. Indian Hills Library Oakland, NJ.
  11. ^ On Finding Your Bliss. Interview by Evelyn C. White, October 1998. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
  12. ^ [1] Interview with Barbara Smith, May 7–8, 2003. p. 50. Retrieved July 19, 2017
  13. ^ "Once (1968)". Alice Walker The Official Website for the American Novelist & Poet. Retrieved March 12, 2017. 
  14. ^ a b Extract from Alice Walker, Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism, The Women's Press Ltd, 1997.
  15. ^ Miller, Monica (December 17, 2012). "Archaeology of a Classic". News & Events. Barnard College. Retrieved June 14, 2014. 
  16. ^ Walker, Alice (October 3, 2003). "Finding a World that I Thought Was Lost: Zora Neale Hurston and the People She Looked at Very Hard and Loved Very Much". The Scholar & Feminist Online. The Barnard Center for Research on Women. Retrieved June 14, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Black Book Publishers in the United States". The African American Experience. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. 
  18. ^ "Alice Walker Booking Agent for Corporate Functions, Events, Keynote Speaking, or Celebrity Appearances". Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  19. ^ "Alice Walker". Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  20. ^ "Alice Walker". Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  21. ^ Molly Lundquist. "The Color Purple - Alice Walker - Author Biography - LitLovers". Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  22. ^ "Analyzing Characterization and Point of View in Alice Walker's Short Fiction". Archived 2013-05-14 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ Justice, Elaine (December 18, 2007). "Alice Walker Places Her Archive at Emory" (Press release). Emory University. 
  24. ^ Walker Interview transcript and audio file on "Inner Light in A time of darkness", Democracy Now! Retrieved February 10, 2010.
  25. ^ "Pulitzer-Winning Writer Alice Walker & Civil Rights Leader Bob Moses Reflect on an Obama Presidency", Democracy Now! video on the African-American vote, January 20, 2009. Retrieved February 10, 2010.
  26. ^ "Global Women Launch Campaign to End Iraq War" (Press release). CodePink: Women for Peace. January 5, 2006. Archived from the original on April 9, 2010. Retrieved February 12, 2010. 
  27. ^ "Walker, Alice." Columbia Guide to Contemporary African American Fiction. Columbia University Press, 2005. Literary Reference Center. Indian Hills Library, Oakland, NJ.
  28. ^ Alma S. Freeman, "Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker: A Spiritual Kinship." Sage 2.1 (Spring 1985), rpt. in Deborah A. Schmitt (ed.), Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 103. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998. Literature Resource Center. Indian Hills Library, Oakland, NJ.
  29. ^ Wilma Mankiller and others, "Womanism". The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History. December 1, 1998. SIRS Issue Researcher. Indian Hills Library, Oakland, NJ. January 9, 2013, p. 1.
  30. ^ Brown, Barry (September 5, 2009). "Toronto film festival ignites anti-Israel boycott". The Washington Times. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  31. ^ "Book Review: "The Cushion in the Road" by Alice Walker". Anti Defamation League. June 18, 2013. 
  32. ^ Alice Walker (July 24, 2009). "The best place one could be on Earth". Electronic Intifada. 
  33. ^ "Antisemitism With a Literary Glow: Alice Walker's Ugly Caricature of Israeli Jews". The Algemeiner. June 24, 2012. 
  34. ^ Gaza Freedom March Archived 2009-09-03 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved February 2010.
  35. ^ Harman, Danna (June 23, 2011). "Author Alice Walker to take part in Gaza flotilla, despite U.S. warning". Haaretz. Tel Aviv. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  36. ^ Urquhart, Conal (June 26, 2011). "Israel accused of trying to intimidate Gaza flotilla journalists". The Guardian. London. 
  37. ^ "Interview with Alice Walker", Foreign Policy, June 23, 2011.
  38. ^ "Alice Walker: Why I'm sailing to Gaza", CNN. June 21, 2011.
  39. ^ "Tiberias" (May 11, 2013). "Palestinians in Israel: Boycotting the boycotters". The Economist. London. 
  40. ^ "Alice Walker says no to Hebrew 'Purple'". Times of Israel. June 19, 2012. 
  41. ^ David Itzkoff (May 31, 2013). "Despite Protests, Alicia Keys Says She Will Perform in Tel Aviv". The New York Times. 
  42. ^ Gavin, Patrick (June 19, 2013). "Celeb video: 'I am Bradley Manning'". Politico. 
  43. ^ a b Alan M. Dershowitz (June 21, 2012). "Alice Walker's bigotry". Jerusalem Post. 
  44. ^ a b Elisheva Goldberg. "Alice Walker Is Not An Anti-Semite". The Daily Beast. 
  45. ^ "Book Review: "The Cushion in the Road" by Alice Walker: Anti-Semitic and Extreme Anti-Israel "Meditations" Permeate Walker's Latest Book". Anti-Defamation League. June 18, 2013. Retrieved June 19, 2013. Her descriptions of Israel and Israelis can largely be described as anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic. 
  46. ^ "ADL: Alice Walker ‘unabashedly infected with anti-Semitism’", The Times of Israel, June 18, 2013.
  47. ^ Koren, Daniel (June 22, 2013). "Alice Walker book deemed 'anti-Jewish'". ynet News. 
  48. ^ Scott Jaschik (August 16, 2013). "Alice Walker Disinvited: Author says donors pressured U. of Michigan to rescind an invitation. University says she wasn't "optimum choice" for an event". Inside Higher Ed. 
  49. ^ Jaschik, Scott (August 19, 2013). "New Invitation for Alice Walker". Inside Higher Ed. 
  50. ^ a b Walker, Alice (December 2012). "Commentary: David Icke and Malcolm X". Alice Walker's Garden. 
  51. ^ O'Brien, Liam (May 19, 2013). "Prize-winning author Alice Walker gives support to David Icke on Desert Island Discs". The Independent on Sunday. London. 
  52. ^ Walker, Alice (July 2013). "David Icke: The People's Voice". Alice Walker's Garden. 
  53. ^ "Desert Island Discs: Alice Walker". BBC Radio 4. May 19, 2013. 
  54. ^ Walker, Alice (2013). "Human Race Get Off Your Knees: I couldn't have put it better myself". 
  55. ^ Jonathan Kay (June 7, 2013). "Where Israel hatred meets space lizards". National Post. Archived from the original on November 30, 2013. 
  56. ^ Driscoll, Margarette (May 4, 2008). "The day feminist icon Alice Walker resigned as my mother". The Times. London. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. 
  57. ^ "Inner Light in a Time of Darkness: A Conversation with Author and Poet Alice Walker". Democracy Now!. November 17, 2006. Archived from the original on June 13, 2007. Retrieved June 14, 2007. 
  58. ^ Parsons, Elaine (2015). Ku-Klux : The Birth of the Klan During Reconstruction. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 
  59. ^ Krum, Sharon (May 26, 2007). "Can I survive having a baby? Will I lose myself ...?". The Guardian. London. 
  60. ^ Wajid, Sara (December 15, 2006). "No retreat". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 26, 2013. 
  61. ^ Reed, Wendy; Horne, Jennifer (2012). Circling Faith: Southern women on spirituality. University of Alabama Press. p. 185. ISBN 9780817317676. 
  62. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 3". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003. 
  63. ^ "Alice Walker (b. 1944)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. 

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit