|Intro||American author and activist|
|Known for||The Color Purple, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, The Temple of My Familiar, Possessing the Secret of Joy|
|A.K.A.||Alice Malsenior Walker, Alice Walker Leventhal, Alice Malsenior Tallul...|
|Is||Writer Poet Novelist Essayist Professor Educator Activist Civil rights advocate Short story writer Children's writer Screenwriter Actor Film producer|
|From||United States of America|
|Field||Academia Activism Film, TV, Stage & Radio Literature|
|Birth||9 February 1944, Eatonton, United States of America|
Alice Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and social activist. In 1982, she wrote the novel The Color Purple, for which she won the National Book Award for hardcover fiction, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She also wrote the novels Meridian (1976) and The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970). An avowed feminist, Walker coined the term "womanist" to mean "A black feminist or feminist of color" in 1983.
Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, a rural farming town, to Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Tallulah Grant. Both of Walker's parents were sharecroppers, though her mother also worked as a seamstress to earn extra money. Walker, the youngest of eight children, was first enrolled in school when she was just four years old at East Putnam Consolidated.
When eight, Walker sustained an injury to her right eye after one of her brothers fired a BB gun. Since her family did not have access to a car, Walker could not receive immediate medical attention, causing her to become permanently blind in that eye. It was after the injury to her eye that Walker began to take up reading and writing. The scar tissue was removed when Walker was 14, but a mark still remains. It is described in her essay "Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self."
As the schools in Eatonton were segregated, Walker attended the only high school available to blacks: Butler Baker High School. She went there to become valedictorian and enrolled in Spelman College in 1961 after being granted a full scholarship by the state of Georgia for having the highest academic achievements of her class. She found two of her professors, Howard Zinn and Staughton Lynd, to be great mentors during her time at Spelman, but both were transferred two years later. Walker was offered another scholarship, this time from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and after the firing of her Spelman professor, Howard Zinn, Walker accepted the offer. Walker became pregnant at the start of her senior year and had an abortion; this experience, as well as the bout of suicidal thoughts that followed, inspired much of the poetry found in Once, Walker's first collection of poetry. Walker graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1965.
Walker wrote the poems of her first book of poetry, Once, while she was a student in East Africa and during her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College. Walker would slip her poetry under the office door of her professor and mentor, Muriel Rukeyser, when she was a student at Sarah Lawrence. Rukeyser then showed the poems to her agent. Once was published four years later by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Following graduation, Walker briefly worked for the New York City Department of Welfare, before returning to South. She took a job working for the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Jackson, Mississippi. Walker also worked as a consultant in black history to the Friends of the Children of Mississippi Head Start program. She later returned to writing as writer-in-residence at Jackson State University (1968–69) and Tougaloo College (1970–71). In addition to her work at Tougaloo College, Walker published her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, in 1970. The novel explores the life of Grange Copeland, an abusive, irresponsible sharecropper, husband and father.
In the fall of 1972, Walker taught a course in Black Women's Writers at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
In 1973, before becoming editor of Ms. Magazine, Walker and literary scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered an unmarked grave they believed to be that of Zora Neale Hurston in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Walker had it marked with a gray marker stating ZORA NEALE HURSTON / A GENIUS OF THE SOUTH / NOVELIST FOLKLORIST / ANTHROPOLOGIST / 1901–1960. The line "a genius of the south" is from Jean Toomer's poem Georgia Dusk, which appears in his book Cane. Hurston was actually born in 1891, not 1901.
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.
In 1976, Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published. Meridian is a novel about activist workers in the South, during the civil rights movement, with events that closely parallel some of Walker's own experiences. 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 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.
In 2000, Walker released a collection of short fiction, based on her own life, called The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart, exploring love and race relations. In this book, Walker details her interracial relationship with Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a civil rights attorney who was also working in Mississippi. The couple married on March 17, 1967 in New York City, since interracial marriage was then illegal in the South, and divorced in 1976. They had a daughter, Rebecca, together in 1969. Rebecca Walker, Alice Walker's only child, is an American novelist, editor, artist, and activist. The Third Wave Foundation, an activist fund, was co-founded by Rebecca and Shannon Liss-Riordan. Her godmother is Alice Walker's mentor and co-founder of Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinem.
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. 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).
Activism and political criticism
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.
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. Walker wrote about the experience in her essay "We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For."
Walker's specific brand of feminism included advocacy of women of color. In 1983, Walker coined the term "womanist" in her collection In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, to mean "a black feminist or feminist of color." The term was made to unite women of color and the feminist movement at "the intersection of race, class, and gender oppression." Walker states that, "'Womanism' gives us a word of our own." because it is a discourse of Black women and the issues they confront in society. Womanism as a movement came into fruition in 1985 at the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature to address Black women's concerns from their own intellectual, physical, and spiritual perspectives."
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."
Two months later, 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 planned to visit Gaza again in December 2009 to participate in the Gaza Freedom March.
On June 23, 2011, she announced plans to participate in an aid flotilla to Gaza that attempted to break Israel's naval blockade. Her participation in the 2011 Gaza flotilla prompted an op-ed, headlined "Alice Walker's bigotry," written by American attorney and law professor Alan Dershowitz in The Jerusalem Post. Dershowitz said, by participating in the flotilla to evade the blockade, she was "provid[ing] material support for terrorism."
Walker is a judge member of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. She supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. In 2012, Walker refused to authorize a Hebrew translation of her book The Color Purple, criticizing what she called Israel's "apartheid state."
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.
Accusations of antisemitism
In May 2013, Walker expressed appreciation for the works of the conspiracy theorist David Icke. On BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, she said that Icke's book Human Race Get Off Your Knees would be her choice if she could have only one book. The book promotes the theory that the Earth is ruled by shapeshifting reptilian humanoids and "Rothschild Zionists." Jonathan Kay of the National Post described the book as "hateful, hallucinogenic nonsense." He wrote 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."
In 2017, Walker published what Tablet described as "an explicitly anti-Semitic poem" on her blog entitled "It Is Our (Frightful) Duty To Study The Talmud", recommending that the reader should start with YouTube to learn about the shocking aspects of the Talmud. Some lines from the poem are "Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews?" and "Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse? Are young boys fair game for rape?"
In 2018, Walker was asked by an interviewer from The New York Times "What books are on your nightstand?" She listed Icke's And the Truth Shall Set You Free, a book promoting an antisemitic conspiracy theory based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Walker described the book as, "A curious person’s dream come true." Walker defended her admiration for Icke and his book, saying, "I do not believe he is anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish.” According to columnist Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, Walker will not allow The Color Purple to be published in Hebrew.
Support for Chelsea Manning
In June 2013, Walker and others appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning, an American soldier imprisoned for releasing classified information.
Walker has been a longtime sponsor of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In early 2015, she wrote: "So I think of any movement for peace and justice as something that is about stabilizing our inner spirit so that we can go on and bring into the world a vision that is much more humane than the one we have dominant today."
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 interracial couple in Mississippi. They were harassed and threatened by whites, including the Ku Klux Klan. The couple had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1969. Walker and her husband divorced in 1976.
In the late 1970s, Walker moved to northern California. 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.
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."
Walker's spirituality has also played a great role in her personal life, and influenced some of her best known novels, like The Color Purple. Her religious views have been defined through an unoppressive womanist perspective as a means to uplift black women. Walker's exploration of religion in much of her writing was greatly inspired by other writers such as Zora Neale Hurston. Some literary critics, such as Alma Freeman, have even said that Walker perceived her as a spiritual sister. 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."
In honor of her mother, Minnie Tallulah Grant, and paternal grandmother, Walker legally added "Tallulah Kate" to her name in 1994. Minnie Tallulah Grant's grandmother, Tallulah, was Cherokee.
Representation in other media
Beauty in Truth (2013) is a documentary film about Walker directed by Pratibha Parmar.
Awards and honors
- MacDowell Colony Fellowships (1967 and 1974)
- Ingram Merrill Foundation Fellowship (1967)
- Candace Award, Arts and Letters, National Coalition of 100 Black Women (1982)
- Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1983) for The Color Purple
- National Book Award for Fiction (1983) for The Color Purple
- O. Henry Award for "Kindred Spirits" (1985)
- Honorary degree from the California Institute of the Arts (1995)
- American Humanist Association named her as "Humanist of the Year" (1997)
- Lillian Smith Award from the National Endowment for the Arts
- Rosenthal Award from the National Institute of Arts & Letters
- Radcliffe Institute Fellowship, the Merrill Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship
- Front Page Award for Best Magazine Criticism from the Newswoman's Club of New York
- Induction into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame (2001)
- Induction into the California Hall of Fame in The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts (2006)
- Domestic Human Rights Award from Global Exchange (2007)
- The LennonOno Grant for Peace (2010)