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Alice Malsenior Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an Americanmarker author. She has written at length on issues of race and gender, and is most famous for the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Early life

Alice Malsenior Walker was born in Eatontonmarker, Georgiamarker, the youngest of eight children, to Willie Lee and Minnie Lou [Tallulah] (Grant) Walker. Her father, who was, in her words, "wonderful at math [but] a terrible farmer," earned only $300 a year from sharecropping and dairy farming, while her mother, who helped him in the fields, supplemented the family income by working as a maid.

Living under Jim Crow Laws, Walker's mother had struggles with landlords who expected the children of black sharecroppers to work the fields as soon as possible. A white plantation owner once asserted to her that blacks had “no need for education.” Mrs. Walker’s response to him was ‘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.” At the age of 4, Mrs. Walker enrolled Alice into the first grade, a year ahead of schedule.

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

In 1952 Walker was accidentally wounded in the eye by a shot from a BB gun fired by one of her brothers. Because they had no access to a car, the Walkers were unable to take their daughter to a hospital for immediate treatment, and when they finally brought her to a doctor a week later, she was permanently blind in that eye. A disfiguring layer of scar tissue formed over it, rendering the previously outgoing child self-conscious and painfully shy. Stared at and sometimes taunted, she felt like an outcast and turned for solace to reading and to poetry writing. Although when she was 14 the scar tissue was removed—and she subsequently became valedictorian and was voted most-popular girl, as well as queen of her senior class—she came to realize that her traumatic injury had some value: it 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," as she has said.


Alice Walker met Martin Luther King Jr. when she was a student at Spelman College in Atlanta in the early 1960s. Walker credits King for her decision to return to the South as an activist for the Civil Rights Movement. She attended the famous 1963 March on Washington. As a young adult she volunteered her time registering voters in Georgia and Mississippi.

On March 8, 2003, International Women's Day, on the eve of the Iraq War, Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston, author of "The Woman Warrior", and Terry Tempest Williams, author of "An Unspoken Hunger" were arrested along with 24 others for crossing a police line during an anti-war protest rally outside the White House. Walker and 5,000 other activists associated with the organizations Code Pink and Women for Peace, marched from Malcolm X Parkmarker in Washington D.C. to the White House. The activist encircled the White House, holding hands and singing. In an interview with Democracy Now, Walker said of the incident, "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."

In November 2008, Alice Walker wrote "An Open Letter to Barack Obama" that was published on Walker addresses the newly elected President as "Brother Obama" and writes "Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina, and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about."

In March 2009, Alice Walker traveled to Gazamarker along with a group of 60 other female activists from the anti-war group Code Pink, in response to the devastation in the wake of the controversial Israeli offensive of December 2008-January 2009. The purpose of the trip was to deliver aid, to meet with NGOs and residents, and to persuade Israel and Egypt to open their borders into Gaza.

Personal life

After high school, Walker went to Spelman College in Atlantamarker on a full scholarship in 1961 and later transferred to Sarah Lawrence Collegemarker near New York City, 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 Mississippimarker.

In 1965, Walker met and later married Mel 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, Mississippimarker, becoming "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 and she described in 2008 as being "a living, breathing, mixed-race embodiment of the new America that they were trying to forge". Walker and her husband divorced amicably in 1976. Walker would later become estranged from her daughter, who felt that she was more of "a political symbol... than a cherished daughter", and Rebecca would later publish a memoir entitled Black White and Jewish, chronicling the effects of her parents' relationship on her childhood.

In the mid-1990s, Walker was involved in a romance with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman.

Walker is also a practicing vegan.

Writing career and success

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 Californiamarker 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.marker Pierce, Floridamarker. Both women paid for a modest headstone for the gravesite.

In addition to her collected short stories and poetry, Walker's first novel, 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 Broadwaymarker musical play.

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) and has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other published work.

Her works typically focus on the struggles of blacks, 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, in which she discusses feminism, racism against blacks, and the issues raised by young black people who leave home and lose respect for their parents' culture.

In 2007, Walker gave 122 boxes of manuscripts and archive material to Emory University'smarker Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. In addition to drafts of writings such as The Color Purple, unpublished poems and writings, 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 that was never used, 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 2009, she was one of the signers of a letter protesting the inclusion of films about Israel at the Toronto Film Festival.

Awards and other recognition

In 1983, The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making Walker the first black woman to win. Walker was also the first black woman to win the National Book Award.

Walker also won the 1986 O. Henry Award for her short story "Kindred Spirits", published in Esquire magazine in August 1985.

In 1995, she received an Honorary Degree from the California Institute of the Artsmarker.

In 1997 she was honored by the American Humanist Association as "Humanist of the Year"

She has also received a number of other awards for her body of work, including:

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.

Selected works

Novels and short story collections

Poetry collections
  • Once (1968)
  • Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973)
  • Good Night, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning (1979)
  • Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1985)
  • Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems (1991)
  • Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth (2003)
  • A Poem Traveled Down My Arm: Poems And Drawings (2003)
  • Collected Poems (2005)
  • Poem at Thirty-Nine
  • Expect nothing

  • In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)
  • Living by the Word (1988)
  • Warrior Marks (1993)
  • The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult (1996)
  • Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism (1997)
  • Go Girl!: The Black Woman's Book of Travel and Adventure (1997)
  • Pema Chodron and Alice Walker in Conversation (1999)
  • Sent By Earth: A Message from the Grandmother Spirit After the Bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon (2001)
  • Women
  • We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For (2006)
  • Mississippi Winter IV



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