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Alice Walker

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For the British Olympic fencer, see Alice Walker (fencer).
Alice Walker
Alice Walker.jpg
Walker in 2007
Born (1944-02-09) February 9, 1944 (age 73)
Putnam County, Georgia, U.S.
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, poet, political activist
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

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

Early life[edit]

Walker was born in Putnam County, Georgia,[4] the youngest of eight children, to Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Lou Tallulah Grant. Her father, who was, in her words, "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] She 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 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 accidentally 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 actually 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, 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, graduating in 1965. 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. 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.[10]

On March 17, 1967, she married Melvyn Roseman Leventhal. She 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.

Writing career[edit]

Walker's first book of poetry, Once, was written while she was in East African and during her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College.[11] 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 before moving to northern California in the late 1970s. Her 1975 article "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston", published in Ms. magazine, helped revive interest in the work of Zora Neale Hurston.[12] Hurston inspired Walker's writing and influenced her subject matter.[13] In 1973, Walker and fellow Hurston scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered Hurston's unmarked grave in Ft. Pierce, Florida. The women chipped in to buy a modest headstone for the gravesite.[14]

In addition to her collected short stories and poetry, Walker's first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland– which follows the life of Grange Copeland, an abusive, irresponsible sharecropper, father, and husband– was published in 1970. In 1976, Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published. Meridian is a "semiautobiographical 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, and closely paralleled some of Walker's own experiences.

In 1982, Walker 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.[15]

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.[16][17][18][19][20]

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.[21] 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 released 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 a civil rights activist for the Civil Rights Movement. She took part in the 1963 March on Washington. Later, she volunteered to register black voters in Georgia and Mississippi.[22][23] 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, for crossing a police line during an anti-war rally outside the White House. 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."[24]

Walker was greatly influenced by Zora Neale Hurston, and "almost single handedly rescued Zora Neale Hurston from obscurity.”[25] She called attention to Hurston's works, and made revived her popularity that had risen during the Harlem Renaissance. Walker was so moved by Hurston that she went to her blank tombstone and wrote "Southern Genius" on it [26]

Walker 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.” [27]

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, condemning Israel as an "apartheid regime."[28]

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 Jewish civil rights lawyer whom she had divorced in the 1970s.[29][30][31] She planned to visit Gaza again in December 2009 to participate in the Gaza Freedom March.[32] On June 23, 2011, she announced plans to participate in an aid flotilla to Gaza that attempted to break Israel's naval blockade.[33][34] She cited concern for the children and 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."[35][36] She also is a judge member of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. Walker supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.[37] In 2012, Walker refused to authorize a Hebrew translation of her book The Color Purple, citing what she called Israel's "apartheid state."[38]

Walker posted an open letter to singer Alicia Keys in May 2013, 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.[39]

In June 2013, Walker and others appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning.[40]


In an article for The Guardian, Walker explained her involvement in the 2011 Gaza flotilla, saying "It seems to me that during this period of eldering it is good to reap the harvest of one's understanding of what is important and to share this...especially with the young... there is, for me, an awareness of paying off a debt to the Jewish civil rights activists who faced death to come to the side of black people in the American South in our time of need. I am especially indebted to Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman who heard our calls for help... even though our boat will be called The Audacity of Hope, it will fly the Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner flag in my own heart."[41]

Her involvement in the 2011 Gaza flotilla also occasioned a Jerusalem Post article by Alan Dershowitz headlined "Alice Walker’s bigotry". Accusing her of a "long history of supporting terrorism against Israel", Dershowitz charged 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." As for her involvement in the flotilla, Dershowitz accused her of "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."[42]

Elisheva Goldberg, writing in the Daily Beast in July 2012, rejected the argument that Walker's refusal to allow the translation made her an anti-Semite. Noting that Walker was married to a Jew, that Walker has a half-Jewish daughter, and that The Color Purple itself was made into a film directed by a Jew, Steven Spielberg, Goldberg stated: "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." To call Walker an anti-Semite, Goldberg claimed, was to "devalue" the experience of her, Goldberg's, grandfather at Treblinka.[43]

The Anti-Defamation League described The Cushion in the Road, her 2013 book on meditation, as antisemitic,[44] writing: "She 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."[45][46]

In 2013, an invitation given to Walker to give a speech at the University of Michigan, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the university's Center for the Education of Women, was rescinded. Walker said that she was disinvited 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.[47] Walker was invited shortly thereafter to speak at a different event at the university.[48]

In May 2013 Walker expressed appreciation for the works of David Icke.[49][50][51] 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 actually 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.[52] Walker also praised this book on her website, stating 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."[49][53] Jonathan Kay of the National Post argued 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."[54]

Personal life[edit]

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".[55][56] They were harassed and threatened by whites, including the Ku Klux Klan.[57][page needed] The couple had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1969. Walker and her husband divorced in 1976.[58]

In the mid-1990s, Walker was involved in a romance with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman:[59] "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."[59]

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."[60]

Beauty in Truth, a documentary film about Walker's life directed by Pratibha Parmar, premiered in March 2013.

Walker was also strongly affected by her teen pregnancy and abortion before her senior year of college in the summer of 1965. She became severely depressed and determined to commit suicide. This emotional trauma she experienced pushed her to write her first book of poems Once.[61]

Awards and honors[edit]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ a b From 1980 to 1983 there were dual hardcover and paperback awards of the National Book Award for Fiction. Walker won the award for hardcover fiction.


  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. ^ On Finding Your Bliss. Interview by Evelyn C. White, October 1998. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
  11. ^ "Once (1968)". Alice Walker The Official Website for the American Novelist & Poet. Retrieved March 12, 2017. 
  12. ^ Miller, Monica (December 17, 2012). "Archaeology of a Classic". News & Events. Barnard College. Retrieved June 14, 2014. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Extract from Alice Walker, Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism, The Women's Press Ltd, 1997.
  15. ^ "Black Book Publishers in the United States". The African American Experience. 
  16. ^ "Alice Walker Booking Agent for Corporate Functions, Events, Keynote Speaking, or Celebrity Appearances". Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  17. ^ "Alice Walker". Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  18. ^ "Alice Walker". Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  19. ^ Molly Lundquist. "The Color Purple - Alice Walker - Author Biography - LitLovers". Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  20. ^ "Analyzing Characterization and Point of View in Alice Walker's Short Fiction".
  21. ^ Justice, Elaine (December 18, 2007). "Alice Walker Places Her Archive at Emory" (Press release). Emory University. 
  22. ^ Walker Interview transcript and audio file on "Inner Light in A time of darkness", Democracy Now! Retrieved February 10, 2010.
  23. ^ "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.
  24. ^ "Global Women Launch Campaign to End Iraq War" (Press release). CodePink: Women for Peace. January 5, 2006. Retrieved February 12, 2010. 
  25. ^ "Walker, Alice." Columbia Guide to Contemporary African American Fiction. Columbia University Press, 2005. Literary Reference Center. Indian Hills Library, Oakland, NJ.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ Brown, Barry (September 5, 2009). "Toronto film festival ignites anti-Israel boycott". The Washington Times. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  29. ^ "Book Review: "The Cushion in the Road" by Alice Walker". Anti Defamation League. June 18, 2013. 
  30. ^ Alice Walker (July 24, 2009). "The best place one could be on Earth". Electronic Intifada. 
  31. ^ "Antisemitism With a Literary Glow: Alice Walker's Ugly Caricature of Israeli Jews". The Algemeiner. June 24, 2012. 
  32. ^ Gaza Freedom March. Retrieved February 2010.
  33. ^ 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. 
  34. ^ Urquhart, Conal (June 26, 2011). "Israel accused of trying to intimidate Gaza flotilla journalists". The Guardian. London. 
  35. ^ "Interview with Alice Walker", Foreign Policy, June 23, 2011.
  36. ^ "Alice Walker: Why I'm sailing to Gaza", CNN. June 21, 2011.
  37. ^ "Tiberias" (May 11, 2013). "Palestinians in Israel: Boycotting the boycotters". The Economist. London. 
  38. ^ "Alice Walker says no to Hebrew 'Purple'". Times of Israel. June 19, 2012. 
  39. ^ David Itzkoff (May 31, 2013). "Despite Protests, Alicia Keys Says She Will Perform in Tel Aviv". The New York Times. 
  40. ^ Gavin, Patrick (June 19, 2013). "Celeb video: 'I am Bradley Manning'". Politico. 
  41. ^ "Alice Walker: Why I'm joining the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza". The Guardian. June 25, 2011. 
  42. ^ Alan M. Dershowitz (June 21, 2012). "Alice Walker's bigotry". Jerusalem Post. 
  43. ^ Elisheva Goldberg. "Alice Walker Is Not An Anti-Semite". The Daily Beast. 
  44. ^ "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. 
  45. ^ Koren, Daniel (June 22, 2013). "Alice Walker book deemed 'anti-Jewish'". ynet News. 
  46. ^ "ADL: Alice Walker ‘unabashedly infected with anti-Semitism’", The Times of Israel, June 18, 2013.
  47. ^ 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. 
  48. ^ Jaschik, Scott (August 19, 2013). "New Invitation for Alice Walker". Inside Higher Ed. 
  49. ^ a b Walker, Alice (December 2012). "Commentary: David Icke and Malcolm X". Alice Walker's Garden. 
  50. ^ 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. 
  51. ^ Walker, Alice (July 2013). "David Icke: The People's Voice". Alice Walker's Garden. 
  52. ^ "Desert Island Discs: Alice Walker". BBC Radio 4. May 19, 2013. 
  53. ^ Walker, Alice (2013). "Human Race Get Off Your Knees: I couldn't have put it better myself". 
  54. ^ Jonathan Kay (June 7, 2013). "Where Israel hatred meets space lizards". National Post. 
  55. ^ 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. 
  56. ^ "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. 
  57. ^ Parsons, Elaine (2015). Ku-Klux : The Birth of the Klan During Reconstruction. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 
  58. ^ Krum, Sharon (May 26, 2007). "Can I survive having a baby? Will I lose myself ...?". The Guardian. London. 
  59. ^ a b Wajid, Sara (December 15, 2006). "No retreat". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 26, 2013. 
  60. ^ Reed, Wendy; Horne, Jennifer (2012). Circling Faith: Southern women on spirituality. University of Alabama Press. p. 185. ISBN 9780817317676. 
  61. ^ 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.
  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 reading[edit]

  • White, Evelyn C. (2005). Alice Walker: A Life. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-32826-4. 
  • Walker, Alice; Parmar, Pratibha (1993). Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women. Diane Books Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-7881-5581-9. 

External links[edit]