By Julie Okuley
Through her poetry, essays, novels, short stories and more, Alice Walker has become named probably the “best known African American writer of the second half of the twentieth century.” She was born as Alice Malsenior Walker on the ninth of February 1944 in the small town of Eatonton, Georgia. She later changed her middle name to Tallulah-Kate, to show her deep admiration for her grandmother Kate Nelson, and her great-grandmother Tallulah Calloway.
Walker was the youngest of eight, the other seven being her older brothers. In 1952, when she was only eight years old, Alice Walker lost sight in her right eye when she was accidentally shot with a BB gun during a game of “Cowboys and Indians” with two of her older brothers. This incident caused Walker to enjoy more time in solitude reading and writing poetry. When she reached the age of fourteen, however, her brother William provided her with the ability to undergo eye surgery. Now, there is a small blue sphere where she had been shot.
Graduating in 1961 from an all-black high school, Butler-Baker High, Walker received not only position of class valedictorian, but the homecoming queen title. She later left Eatonton, Georgia to go to attend Spelman, a college for black women in Atlanta. Two years later, in 1963, she transferred to the college of Sarah Lawrence, just outside of New York City. During her time at Sarah Lawrence, she began getting involved with the civil rights movement. In 1965, she graduated and immediately began working with the New York City Department of Welfare. Indeed, from 1965 to 1968, she was actively involved in the civil rights movement, including voter registration drives in Georgia, welfare rights campaigns, and children’s programs in Mississippi.
Walker met her future husband, a white civil rights lawyer, Melvyn Levanthal after moving to Jackson, Mississippi to work for the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). They married in 1967 and lived together in Mississippi even though interracial marriage was not yet legalized there. They had one daughter named Rebecca before divorcing in 1977. Walker later returned to New York City and became an editor of “Ms.” Magazine and later, establishing her own press company, Wild Trees Press in 1984.
Through her press company, Walker was able to help into production the work of some lesser known talents. She had a real appreciation for any artist’s work, especially the work of Zora Neale Hurston. Walker published a number of reviews on Hurston’s work, resulting in many of the pieces returning to print. In fact, Walker’s admiration for Hurston was so great that in 1973, she found her burial site in Ft. Pierce and marked it herself with a gravestone.
So far, Alice Walker has published a total of six novels, five volumes of poetry, two children’s books, four essay collections, and three short story collections—the most famous of which being her novel The Color Purple. Published in 1982, this novel received the National Book Award, the American Book Award, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize—the first one to ever be awarded to a novel by an African American woman. Later, it was honored by being made into a film, directed by Steven Spielberg. The movie was released in 1985 to great acclaim. By 2004, the novel had made its way onto the stage after having been transformed into an award-winning musical. The show reached Broadway only a year later.
In 2007, Walker was entered into the California Hall of Fame as an inaugural inductee. She still currently resides in California and “remains what she has been for more than thirty years: a gifted and prolific writer, a bold thinker, a woman who is determined to confront and embrace the contradictions of her life and the paradoxes of our time. There’s simply no better way to put it.
Gates, Henry Louis Jr., and others, eds. “Alice Walker.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. This is a great source for reading about any of the prominent African American writers, whether abolitionist writing, literature, or poetry. Each section includes a brief biography of the author and an explanation of the following literary passage. The biography written on Alice Walker includes not only key information into her life, but is written in such a way that invites the reader to research farther.
“Alice Walker: Official Biography.” Alice Walker: The Official Website (2010). http://alicewalkersgarden.com/about/.This website is considered the official website on Alice Walker. It offers a very wide range of information, including an extensive bibliography, poems, videos, books, a calendar of events, and much more. It is a great source for reading essays or articles about Alice Walker and her life, or simply about who receives the scholarship award in her name each year.
Whitted, Qiana. “Alice Walker (b. 1944).” The New Georgia Encyclopedia (May 2008). Accessed April 30, 2011. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-998. In addition to the great biography put together by Qiana Whitted, from Yale University, this page also gives detailed descriptions of many of Alice Walker’s books, including critics’ ratings, what genre of writing the book belongs to, what awards it has won, and sometimes, some short analyses of the work.
“Alice Walker—Biography.” Inspirational Black Literature (2010). http://www.inspirational-black-literature.com/alice-walker.html. This is another great website for information on Alice Walker. Including the well-written biography, it provides commentary and links about many of her various works of writing. It also does the same for numerous other inspirational writers of black culture.
Clark, Tara. “Alice Walker.” University of North Carolina at Pembroke Literature Page. Ed. by
Mark Canada. http://www.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/canam/walker.htm This webpage is associated with the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. It contains a detailed timeline of Alice Walker’s life, a sample of her poetry and a short analysis of it, a biography and more. It also offers various other sources for further research.