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Walker, Alice 1944–

Alice Walker 1944

Writer

Influenced by Roots

Explored Male Violence and Sexism

Struck A Chord With Color Purple

Flipped Between Critical Opinion and Fiction

Brought Mutilation Into Consciousness

Turned to Own Life For Inspiration

Selected works

Sources

Recognized as one of the leading voices among black American women writers, Alice Walker has produced an acclaimed and varied body of work, including poetry, novels, short stories, essays, and criticism. Her writings portray the struggle of black people throughout history, and are praised for their insightful and riveting portraits of black life, in particular the experiences of black women in a sexist and racist society. Her most famous work, the award-winning and best-selling novel The Color Purple, chronicles the life of a poor and abused southern black woman who eventually triumphs over oppression through affirming female relationships. Walker has described herself as a womanisther term for a black feministwhich she defines in the introduction to her book of essays, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose, as one who appreciates and prefers womens culture, womens emotional flexibility womens strength and is committed to [the] survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.

A theme throughout Walkers work is the preservation of black culture, and her women characters forge important links to maintain continuity in both personal relationships and communities. According to Barbara T. Christian in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Walker is concerned with heritage, which to Walker is not so much the grand sweep of history or artifacts created as it is the relations of people to each other, young to old, parent to child, man to woman. Walker admired the struggle of black women throughout history to maintain an essential spirituality and creativity in their lives, and their achievements serve as an inspiration to others. In Our Mothers Gardens, Walker wrote: We must fearlessly pull out of ourselves and look at and identify with our lives the living creativity some of our great-grandmothers were not allowed to know. I stress some of them because it is well known that the majority of our great-grandmothers knew, even without knowing it, the reality of their spirituality, even if they didnt recognize it beyond what happened in the singing at churchand they never had any intention of giving it up.

Influenced by Roots

Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in the small rural town of Eatonton, Georgia, where she was the youngest of eight children of impoverished sharecroppers.

At a Glance

Born Alice Malsenior Walker on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, GA; daughter of Willie Lee and Minnie Tallulah (Grant) Walker (sharecroppers); married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal (a civil rights lawyer), March 17, 1967 (divorced, 1976); children: Rebecca Grant. Education: Attended Spetman College, 196163; Sarah Lawrence College, BA, 1965.

Career: Voter register in Liberty County, GA, c. 1965; New York City welfare department, employee, c. 1966; poet, 1968-; Friends of the Children of Mississippi, black literature consultant, 1967; Jackson State College, Jackson, MS, writer in residence 1986-69; novelist, 1970s Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, MS, writer in residence, 1970-71; Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, lecturer in literature, 1972-73; University of Massachusetts-Boston, lecturer in literature, 1972-73; essayist, 1973-; University of California-Berkeley, Afro-American studies department, distinguished writer, 1982; Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, Fannie Hurst Professor of Literature, 1982; Wild Trees Press, Navarro, CA, co-founder and publisher, 1984-88.

Memberships: Board of trustees, Sarah Lawrence College.

Selected awards: Bread Loaf scholar, 1966; National Book Award nomination and Lillian Smith Award from Southern Regional Council, both for Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems, 1973; Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, for in Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, 1974 National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 1982, Pulitzer Prize, 1983, and American Book Award, 1983, all for The Color Purple; O. Henry Award, for Kindred Spirits, 1986; Sheila Award, Tubman African American Museum, 1997.

Addresses: Office c/o Random House, 299 Park Ave, New York, NY, 10171.

Both of her parents were storytellers, and Walker was especially influenced by her mother, whom she described in Our Mothers Gardens as a walking history of our community. A childhood accident at the age of eight left Walker blind and scarred in one eye, which, partially corrected when she was fourteen, left a profound influence on her. I believe that it was from this periodfrom my solitary, lonely position, the position of an outcastthat I began really to see people and things, really to notice relationships and to learn to be patient enough to care about how they turned out. I retreated into solitude, and read stories and began to write poems. Walker has commented that as a southern black growing up in a poor rural community, she possessed the benefit of double vision. She explained in Our Mothers Gardens: Not only is the [black southern writer] in a position to see his own world, and its close community but he is capable of knowing, with remarkably silent accuracy, the people who make up the larger world that surrounds and suppresses his own.

Walker was an excellent student, and received a scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta, and later to Sarah Lawrence College in the Bronx, New York. While in college, she became politically aware in the Civil Rights Movement and participated in many demonstrations. Her first book of poems, Once, was written while she was a senior at Sarah Lawrence and was accepted for publication the same year. Walker wrote many of the poems in the span of a week in the winter of 1965, when she wrestled with suicide after deciding to have an abortion. The poems recount the despair and isolation of her situation, in addition to her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement and of a trip she had made to Africa. Though not widely reviewed, Once marked Walkers debut as a distinctive and talented writer. Carolyn M. Rodgers in Negro Digest noted Walkers precise wordings, the subtle, unexpected twists [and] shifting of emotions. Christian remarked that already in Once, Walker displayed what would become a feature of both her future poetry and fiction, an unwavering honesty in evoking the forbidden, either in political stances or in love.

Walker returned to the South after college and worked as a voter register in Georgia and an instructor in black history in Mississippi. She recounted in Our Mothers Gardens that she was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.s message that being a southern black meant I had claim to the land of my birth. Walker continued to write poetry and fiction, and began to further explore the South she came from. She described in Our Mothers Gardens of being particularly influenced by the Russian writers, who spoke to her of a soul directly rooted in the soil that nourished it. She was also influenced by black writer Zora Neale Hurston, whod wrote lively folk accounts of the thriving small, southern black community she grew up in. Walker stated in Our Mothers Gardens how she particularly admired the racial health of Hurstons work: A sense of black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings, a sense that is lacking in so much black writing and literature.

Explored Male Violence and Sexism

Critics have often objected to her portrayal of black males. With the help of a 1967 McDowell fellowship, Walker completed her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, published in 1970. The novel depicts cycles of male violence in three generations of an impoverished southern black family (the Copelands), and displays Walkers interest in social conditions that affect family relationships, in addition to her recurring theme of the suffering of black women at the hands of men. The novel revolves around a father (Grange) who abandons his abused wife and young son (Brownfield) for a more prosperous life in the North, and returns years later to find his son similarly abusing his own family. Christian wrote that the men in the novel are thwarted by the society in their drive for control of their livesthe American definition of manhood[and] vent their frustrations by inflicting violence on their wives. Critics praised the realism of the novel, CLA Journal contributor Peter Erickson, who noted that Walker demonstrated with a vivid matter-of-factness the familys entrapment in a vicious cycle of poverty. However, Walker was also faulted for her portrayal of black men as violent, an aspect which is frequently criticized in her work. Walker responded to such criticism in an interview with Claudia Tate in Black Women Writers at Work: I know many Brown-fields, and its a shame that I know so many. I will not ignore people like Brownfield. I want you to know I know they exist. I want to tell you about them, and there is no way you are going to avoid them.

Walker frankly depicted the twin afflictions of racism and sexism. Walkers women characters display strength, endurance, and resourcefulness in confrontingand overcomingoppression in their lives, yet Walker is frank in depicting the often devastating circumstances of the twin afflictions of racism and sexism. Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly identifies ones status in society, the mule of the world, because we have been handed the burdens that everyone elseeveryone elserefused to carry, Walker stated in Our Mothers Gardens. Mary Helen Washington in Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature noted that the true empathy Alice Walker has for the oppressed woman comes through in all her writings. Raising an ax, crying out in childbirth or abortion, surrendering to a man who is oblivious to her real namethese are the kinds of images which most often appear in Ms. Walkers own writing. Washington added that the strength of such images is that Walker gives insight into the intimate reaches of the inner lives of her characters; the landscape of her stories is the spiritual realm where the soul yearns for what it does not have.

Walkers short story collections, In Love and Trouble and You Cant Keep a Good Woman Down expound upon the problems of sexism and racism facing black women. In Love and Trouble features thirteen black women protagonistsmany of them from the Southwho, as Christian notes, against their own conscious wills in the face of pain, abuse, even death, challenge the conventions of sex, race, and age that attempt to restrict them. In Our Mothers Gardens, Walker stated that her intent in the stories was to present a variety of womenmad, raging, loving, resentful, hateful, strong, ugly, weak, pitiful, and magnificentas they try to live with the loyalty to black men that characterizes all of their lives. Barbara Smith in Ms. praised the collection, stating it would be an extraordinary literary work if its only virtue were the fact that the author sets out consciously to explore with honesty the textures and terror of black womens lives. Smith added: The fact that Walkers perceptions, style, and artistry are also consistently high makes her work a treasure.

The stories in You Cant Keep a Good Women Down represented an evolution in subject matter, as Walker delved more directly into mainstream feminist issues such as abortion, pornography, and rape. Although a number of critics remarked that the polemic nature of the stories detracted from their narrative effect, Walker again demonstrated, according to Christian, the extent to which black women are free to pursue their own selfhood in a society permeated by sexism and racism.

Walker explored similar terrain in her acclaimed 1976 novel, Meridian, in which she recounts the personal evolution of a young black woman against the backdrop of the politics of the Civil Rights Movement. Structurally complex, the novel raised questions of motherhood for the politically-aware female, and the implications for the individual of being committed to revolution. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Marge Piercy praised Meridian as a fine, taut novel that accomplishes a remarkable amount and noted that Walker writes with a sharp critical sense as she deals with the issues of tactics and strategy in the civil rights movement, with the nature of commitment, the possibility of interracial love and communication, the vital and lethal strands in American and black experience, with violence and nonviolence. The novel received much critical recognition and was praised for its deft handling of complex subject matter. Years after its publication, Robert Towers commented in the New York Review of Books that Meridian remains the most impressive fictional treatment of the Movement that I have yet read.

During this time period, Walker moved to San Francisco in order to escape the world of everyday work as an editor at Ms. magazine. It was here that she rekindled a relationship with Robert Allen, shortly after her divorce from Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal in 1976. She and Allen would move in together in Mendocino, California, and in later years would start a publishing company together called Wild Tree Press.

Struck A Chord With Color Purple

In her 1982 novel, The Color Purple, Walker brought together many of the characters and themes of her previous works in a book which Peter S. Prescott in Newsweek proclaimed an American novel of permanent importance. The Color Purple is a series of letters written by a southern black woman (Celie), reflecting a history of oppression and abuse suffered at the hands of the men. The book was resoundingly praised for its masterful recreation of black folk speech, in which, as Towers noted, Walker converts Celies subliterate dialect into a medium of remarkable expressiveness, color, and poignancy. Towers added: I find it impossible to imagine Celie apart from her language; through it, not only a memorable and infinitely touching character but a whole submerged world is vividly called into being.

The novel charts Celies resistance to the oppression surrounding her, and the liberation of her existence through positive and supportive relations with other women. Christian noted that perhaps even more than Walkers other works, [The Color Purple] especially affirms that the most abused of the abused can transform herself. It completed the cycle Walker announced a decade ago: the survival and liberation of black women through the strength and wisdom of others. The novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award, and was made into a popular motion picture which received several Academy Award nominations.

While The Color Purple garnered much success for Walker, it also brought about a good deal of controversy. Many critics attacked the book as well as the movie adaptation for being degrading to Black men and promoting lesbianism among Black women, according to Essence. Many people also felt that Walker had degraded the story of The Color Purple when she had allowed Steven Spielberg to adapt the film. According to Essence, many readers of her book felt that she had betrayed Blacks by joining forces with a Jewish male director who epitomized Tinseltowns feel-good cinematic traditions. It took a long time for Walker to respond to this criticism but in 1995 she shot back with The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult, a book that was aimed at answering a lot of the criticism of both the book and the movie as well as documenting both the writing and the movie making process that Walker went through. Her hope was that by showing the difficulty in compiling a story such as The Color Purple, by fleshing out why she wrote the book and certain scenes as she did, as well as explaining exactly how much control she had over the movie version of her story, she would give readers a better understanding of her motivations. The book also included Walkers original screenplay for the movie adaptation that was much truer to the book, another flaw many fans of the book had with the movie.

Flipped Between Critical Opinion and Fiction

During the process of turning The Color Purple into a movie, Walker continued to be prolific. In 1983 she put out In Search of Mothers Garden, her first collection of nonfiction essays that touched on the themes of feminism and the theories of the feminist movement. She returned to poetry in 1984 with Horses Make the Landscape More Beautiful, which again explored the themes of the past, family, and ancestry. Shortly after the release of The Color Purple on movie screens, Walker turned to childrens literature with To Hell With Dying which focuses on the mortality of the physical world and how memory conquers this mortality. Many people felt that the book was too heavy handed for a childrens book, but many critics saw it as one of the few books that was able to tactfully deal with such an important subject.

Her 1989 novel, The Temple of My Familiar, described by Walker as a romance of the last 500,000 years, represents a departure of sorts for the author, and critical opinion was mixed upon its publication. J. M. Coetzee in the New York Times Book Review described it as a mixture of mythic fantasy, revisionary history, exemplary biography and sermon which is short on narrative tension, long on inspirational message. In the novel, Walker features six characters, three men and three women, who relate their views on life through recounting memories of ancestors and spirits from past cultures. While a number of reviewers faulted the ideological weight of the novel, others commented that the book remained faithful to the concerns of Walkers works. Luci Tapahonso noted in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that the novel focused on familiar Walker themes, such as compassion for the oppressed, the grief of the oppressors, acceptance of the unchangeable and hope for everyone and everything.

While Walkers works speak strongly of the experiences of black women, critics have commented that the messages of her books transcend both race and gender. According to Gloria Steinem in Ms., Walker comes at universality through the path of an American black womans experience. She speaks the female experience more powerfully for being able to pursue it across boundaries of race and class. Jeanne Fox-Alston in the Chicago Tribune Book World called Walker a provocative writer who writes about blacks in particular, but all humanity in general. In her 1988 prose collection, Living by the Word: Selected Writings, 1973-1987, Walker discussed, through essays and journal entries, topics such as nuclear weapons and racism in other countries. Noel Perrin in the New York Times Book Review wrote that although Walkers original interests centered on black women, and especially on the ways they were abused or underrated now those interests encompass all creation. Derrick Bell commented in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that Walker uses carefully crafted images that provide a universality to unique events. Living by the Word presents vintage Alice Walker: passionate, political, personal, and poetic.

Brought Mutilation Into Consciousness

The early 1990s were a difficult time for Walker, for she ended her 13 year relationship with Robert Allen and contracted Lyme disease. But none of these things stopped her from writing. Shortly before addressing the controversy of The Color Purple in The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult, Walker produced another book which brought about much controversy in the critical world, Possessing the Secret of Joy, in 1992. The book focused on Tashi, a young woman living in the fictional African country of Olinka, who is forced by her tribe to take part in the rituals of female circumcision, a process which ruins the rest of Tashis life. The novel describes graphically the process of female genital mutilation and the repercussions of such actions, including not only physical and psychological problems, but also an inability to keep intact gender. Before the book is finished, Tashi loses all pleasure from sexual encounters, gives birth to a mentally-challenged son, and due to the traumatic nature of the chain of events, is driven to murder the woman who initially circumcised her.

A year later, Walker continued to bring female genital mutilation to the forefront of social consciousness by producing a book and movie called Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blindings of Women. Much like Possessing the Secret of Joy, Warrior Marks, looks at the repercussions of the mutilation traditions in many societies, but instead of fictionalizing the issue as she did in Possessing the Secret of Joy Walker instead decided to work from a documentary standpoint. The film and the book attempted to search out the meanings behind the traditional ceremonies of female genital mutilation and in turn looked for reasons why the tradition was still carried on in modern times.

What impressed many people about both the movie and the book is that it took a complete look at the issue, from both a cultural standpoint as well as a psychological standpoint. Many people were also surprised to learn that Walker was the driving force behind the movie version of Warrior Marks, for she used all of the money that was advanced to her by her publisher Harcourt for the non-fiction documentary book on the subject to produce the movie herself. Walker made it clear in both the movie and the book that her intent with these projects was to make the world-wide public aware that such practices were still going on and according to Publishers Weekly she was determined to do what she could to rid the world of that barbaric, and often deadly, centuries-year-old tradition.

Turned to Own Life For Inspiration

By the late 1990s Walker had turned to her own experiences in the world for subject matter for her essays and novels. In 1998 she put out a collection of essays entitled Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writers Activism which aimed at showing how through writing activism occurred and vice-versa. This idea had begun with Walker during her time making Warrior Marks and carried over into her becoming more socially and politically active on subjects such as the treatment of women in Ghana, the defense of Winnie Mandela, and the role of parents in the lives of children.

In 1999 Walker released By the Light of My Fathers Smile, a novel that examines how a persons sexuality can influence the way in which people respond to them. This was an issue that Walker dealt with directly in her own life when she made it publicly known that she was homosexual in the mid-1990s. By the Light of My Fathers Smile is also concerned with the idea of cultural diversity and spirituality, with the ghost of the father of the main character, Magdalena, unable to rest in the afterworld until he is able to accept the love between his daughter and a person of a mixed heritage.

In an attempt to chronicle many of the events of her life, Walker turned to the essay filled The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart. In this book Walker examined her early marriage to a white man as well as, according to Black Issues Book Review, exploring the complexity of love and race and family the contradictory nexus of sexual response and sexual responsibility and worries about past loves, unfamiliar therapists and weeping children. In a response to this book, Walkers daughter Rebecca wrote Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self, which revealed a very different side to Walkers personal life, about how she often treated her daughter poorly and how she was often selfish in her pursuit of her writing. Walker has taken a good deal of criticism since the release of Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self, but in response she told Black Issues Book Review, In general, I dont seem to care very much about what people think Im pretty clear about what Im supposed to be doing here, and I do that.

In 2003 Walker returned to poetry, a medium she had not used since the mid-1980s, with her book Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth. Written in response to events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the poems in the book focus on healing the spirit through experience and age in a world that is attempting to kill freedom. She told Black Issues Book Review, I think that with time, we begin to understand a little better that some things we thought were horrible, unbearable can be bearable as we grow older. For instance, in my early poetry I wrote poems about suicide. And now I dont think about that very much. Its interesting because I think that to wage continuous war in the world is a kind of suicide. In a sense, the suicide that I see now is a global one. Its humanity that seems to be interested in ending itself. But I dont feel interested in ending myself. I think thats progress.

Walker continues to make the public aware of views, not only in media, but in her actions as well. In March of 2003 she joined with Maxine Hong Kingston and a group known as CodePink to protest the United States military action in Iraq and was arrested for demonstrating in a closed area in front of the White House and crossing police lines. Many critics have wondered whether the writer will ever slow down, but she told Black Issues Book Review, I think all I can say is that now Im an older person. Im someone who has had much more experience than in the beginning. But in some ways, Im concerned about the same issues, the same emotions. Im concerned with the safety of our people, the planet, people who are in deep trouble around the world.

Selected works

Fiction

The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Harcourt, 1970.

In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, Harcourt, 1973.

Meridian, Harcourt, 1976.

You Cant Keep a Good Woman Down, Harcourt, 1981.

The Color Purple, Harcourt, 1982.

To Hell with Dying, Harcourt, 1988.

The Temple of My Familiar, Harcourt, 1989.

Possessing the Secret of Joy, Harcourt, 1992.

By the Light of My Fathers Smile, Random House, 1998.

Nonfiction

Langston Hughes: American Biography (for children), Crowell, 1973.

(Editor) I Love Myself When Im Laughing and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader, Feminist Press, 1979.

In Search of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose, Harcourt, 1983.

Living by the Word: Selected Writings, 1973-1987, Harcourt, 1988.

Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women, Harcourt, 1993.

The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult, Scribner, 1996.

Banned, Aunt Lute Books, 1996.

Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writers Activism, Random House, 1997.

The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart, Random House, 2000.

Sent By Earth: A Message From the Grandmother

Spirit After the Bombing of the World Trade Center, Seven Stories Press, 2001.

Poetry

Once: Poems, Harcourt, 1968.

Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems, Harcourt, 1973.

Goodnight, Willie Lee, Ill See You in the Morning, Dial, 1979.

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, Harcourt, 1984.

Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems, Harcourt, 1991.

Absolute Trust in the Goddess of the Earth: New Poems, Random House, 2003.

Other

Contributor to numerous books, anthologies, and periodicals; contributing editor to periodicals, including Freedomways and Ms. Media adaptationsThe Color Purple was made into a film and released by Warner Bros. in 1985.

Sources

Books

Bell, Roseann P., Bettye J. Parker, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, editors, Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature, Anchor Press, 1979.

Bestsellers 89, Issue 4, Gale, 1989.

Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Volume 27 (entry contains interview), Gale, 1989.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 5, 1976; Volume 6, 1976; Volume 9, 1978; Volume 19, 1981; Volume 27, 1984; Volume 46, 1988.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 6: American Novelists since World War II, 2nd series, Gale, 1980; Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, Gale, 1984.

Evans, Mari, editor, Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984.

Periodicals

Biblio, January 1999, p. 61.

Black Issues Book Review, November 2000, p. 17; March-April 2003, pp. 34-38.

Chicago Tribune Book World, August 1, 1982; September 15, 1985.

CLA Journal, September 1979.

Essence, February 1996, pp. 84-88.

Lancet, February 13, 1993, p. 423.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 29, 1988; May 21, 1989.

Ms., February 1974; June 1982.

Negro Digest, September/October 1968.

Newsweek, June 21, 1982.

New York Review of Books, August 12, 1982.

New York Times Book Review, May 26, 1976; June 5, 1988; April 30, 1989.

Publishers Weekly, October 25, 1993, p. 13; December 18, 1995, p. 38.

On-line

Book www.bookmagazine.com (October 24, 2003).

Walkers Complete Works, Living By Grace, http://members.tripod.com/chrisdanielle/completeworks.html (October 24, 2003).

Michael E. Mueller and Ralph G. Zerbonia

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Walker, Alice 1944–

Alice Walker 1944

Author

At a Glance

Early Influences

Objections to Her Portrayal of Black Males

Subject Matter Evolved

The Color Purple Became a Pulitzer Prize winner

Selected writings

Sources

Recognized as one of the leading voices among black American women writers, Alice Walker has produced an acclaimed and varied body of work, including poetry, novels, short stories, essays, and criticism. Her writings portray the struggle of black people throughout history, and are praised for their insightful and riveting portraits of black life, in particular the experiences of black women in a sexist and racist society. Her most famous work, the award-winning and best-selling novel The Color Purple, chronicles the life of a poor and abused southern black woman who eventually triumphs over oppression through affirming female relationships. Walker has described herself as a womanisther term for a black feminist which she defines in the introduction to her book of essays, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose, as one who appreciates and prefers womens culture, womens emotional flexibility womens strength and is committed to [the] survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.

A theme throughout Walkers work is the preservation of black culture, and her female characters forge important links to maintain continuity in both personal relationships and communities. According to Barbara T. Christian in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Walker is concerned with heritage, which to Walker is not so much the grand sweep of history or artifacts created as it is the relations of people to each other, young to old, parent to child, man to woman. Walker admires the struggle of black women throughout history to maintain an essential spirituality and creativity in their lives, and their achievements serve as an inspiration to others. In Our Mothers Gardens, Walker wrote: We must fearlessly pull out of ourselves and look at and identify with our lives the living creativity some of our great-grandmothers were not allowed to know. I stress some of them because it is well known that the majority of our great-grandmothers knew, even without knowing it, the reality of their spirituality, even if they didnt recognize it beyond what happened in the singing at churchand they never had any intention of giving it up.

Walkers women characters display strength, endurance, and resourcefulness in confrontingand overcoming oppression in their lives, yet Walker is frank in depicting the often devastating circumstances of the twin afflictions

At a Glance

Full name, Alice Malsenior Walker; born February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, GA; daughter of Willie Lee and Minnie Tallulah (Grant) Walker (sharecroppers); married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal (a civil rights lawyer), March 17, 1967 (divorced, 1976); children: Rebecca Grant. Education: Attended Spelman College, 1961-63; Sarah Lawrence College, B.A., 1965.

Voter register in Liberty County, GA, and worker in New York City welfare department, c. 1965-66; black literature consultant for Friends of the Children of Mississippi, 1967; writer in residence at Jackson State College, Jackson, MS, 1968-69, and Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, MS, 1970-71; lecturer in literature at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, and University of MassachusettsBoston, both 1972-73; distinguished writer at University of CaliforniaBerkeley, Afro-American studies department, spring, 1982; Fannie Hurst Professor of Literature at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, fall, 1982; co-founding publisher of Wild Trees Press, Navarro, CA, 1984-88. Lecturer and reader at universities and colleges. Board of trustees member at Sarah Lawrence College.

Awards: National Endowment for the Arts grants, 1969 and 1977; Radcliffe Institute fellowship, 1971-73; honorary Ph.D. from Russell Sage College, 1972; National Book Award nomination and Lillian Smith Award from Southern Regional Council, both 1973, both for Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems; Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1974, for In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women; Guggenheim Award, 1977-78; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 1982, Pulitzer Prize, 1983, and American Book Award, 1983, all for The Color Purple; honorary doctorate from University of Massachusetts, 1983; O. Henry Award, 1986, for Kindred Spirits.

Addresses: Home San Francisco, CA.

of racism and sexism. Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly identifies ones status in society, the mule of the world, because we have been handed the burdens that everyone elseeveryone elserefused to carry, Walker stated in Our Mothers Gardens. Mary Helen Washington in Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature noted that the true empathy Alice Walker has for the oppressed woman comes through in all her writings. Raising an ax, crying out in childbirth or abortion, surrendering to a man who is oblivious to her real namethese are the kinds of images which most often appear in Ms. Walkers own writing. Washington adds that the strength of such images is that Walker gives insight into the intimate reaches of the inner lives of her characters; the landscape of her stories is the spiritual realm where the soul yearns for what it does not have.

Early Influences

Walkers beginnings as a writer are in the small rural town of Eatonton, Georgia, where she was the youngest of eight children of impoverished sharecroppers. Both of her parents were storytellers, and Walker was especially influenced by her mother, whom she described in Our Mothers Gardens as a walking history of our community. A childhood accident at the age of eight left Walker blind and scarred in one eye, which, partially corrected when she was fourteen, left a profound influence on her. I believe that it was from this periodfrom my solitary, lonely position, the position of an outcastthat I began really to see people and things, really to notice relationships and to learn to be patient enough to care about how they turned out. I retreated into solitude, and read stories and began to write poems. Walker has commented that as a southern black growing up in a poor rural community, she possessed the benefit of double vision. She explained in Our Mothers Gardens: Not only is the [black southern writer] in a position to see his own world, and its close community but he is capable of knowing, with remarkably silent accuracy, the people who make up the larger world that surrounds and suppresses his own.

Walker was an excellent student, and received a scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta, and later to Sarah Lawrence College in the Bronx, New York. While in college, she became politically aware in the Civil Rights Movement and participated in many demonstrations. Her first book of poems, Once, was written while she was a senior at Sarah Lawrence and was accepted for publication the same year. Walker wrote many of the poems in the span of a week in the winter of 1965, when she wrestled with suicide after deciding to have an abortion. The poems recount the despair and isolation of her situation, in addition to her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement and of a trip she had made to Africa. Though not widely reviewed, Once marked Walkers debut as a distinctive and talented writer. Carolyn M. Rodgers in Negro Digest noted Walkers precise wordings, the subtle, unexpected twistsand shifting of emotions. Christian remarks that already in Once, Walker displayed what would become a feature of both her future poetry and fiction, an unwavering honesty in evoking the forbidden, either in political stances or in love.

Walker returned to the South after college and worked as a voter register in Georgia and an instructor in black history in Mississippi. She was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.s message, as she recounted in Our Mothers Gardens, that being a southern black meant I had claim to the land of my birth. Walker continued to write poetry and fiction, and began to further explore the South she came from. She described in Our Mothers Gardens of being particularly influenced by the Russian writers, who spoke to her of a souldirectly rooted in the soil that nourished it. She was also influenced by black writer Zora Neale Hurston, who wrote lively folk accounts of the thriving small, southern black community she grew up in. Walker stated in Our Mothers Gardens how she particularly admired the racial health of Hurstons work: A sense of black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings, a sense that is lacking in so much black writing and literature.

Objections to Her Portrayal of Black Males

With the help of a 1967 McDowell fellowship, Walker completed her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, published in 1970. The novel depicts cycles of male violence in three generations of an impoverished southern black family (the Copelands), and displays Walkers interest in social conditions that affect family relationships, in addition to her recurring theme of the suffering of black women at the hands of men. The novel revolves around a father (Grange) who abandons his abused wife and young son (Brownfield) for a more prosperous life in the North, and returns years later to find his son similarly abusing his own family. Christian writes that the men in the novel are thwarted by the society in their drive for control of their livesthe American definition of manhood[and] vent their frustrations by inflicting violence on their wives. Critics praised the realism of the novel, including CLA Journal contributor Peter Erickson, who noted that Walker demonstrated with a vivid matter-of-factness the familys entrapment in a vicious cycle of poverty. However, Walker was also faulted for her portrayal of black men as violent, an aspect which is frequently criticized in her work. Walker responded to such criticism in an interview with Claudia Tate in Black Women Writers at Work: I know many Brownfields, and its a shame that I know so many. I will not ignore people like Brownfield. I want you to know I know they exist. I want to tell you about them, and there is no way you are going to avoid them.

Walkers short story collections, In Love and Trouble (1973) and You Cant Keep a Good Woman Down (1981) expand upon the problems of sexism and racism facing black women. In Love and Trouble features thirteen black women protagonistsmany of them from the Southwho, as Christian notes, against their own conscious wills in the face of pain, abuse, even death, challenge the conventions of sex, race, and age that attempt to restrict them. In Our Mothers Gardens, Walker stated that her intent in the stories was to present a variety of womenmad, raging, loving, resentful, hateful, strong, ugly, weak, pitiful, and magnificentas they try to live with the loyalty to black men that characterizes all of their lives. Barbara Smith in Ms. praised the collection, stating it would be an extraordinary literary work if its only virtue were the fact that the author sets out consciously to explore with honesty the textures and terror of black womens lives. Smith added: The fact that Walkers perceptions, style, and artistry are also consistently high makes her work a treasure.

Subject Matter Evolved

The stories in You Cant Keep a Good Woman Down represented an evolution in subject matter, as Walker delved more directly into mainstream feminist issues such as abortion, pornography, and rape. Although a number of critics remarked that the polemic nature of the stories detracted from their narrative effect, Walker again demonstrated, according to Christian, the extent to which black women are free to pursue their own selfhood in a society permeated by sexism and racism.

Walker explored similar terrain in her acclaimed 1976 novel, Meridian, in which she recounts the personal evolution of a young black woman against the backdrop of the politics of the Civil Rights Movement. Structurally complex, the novel raises questions of motherhood for the politically-aware female, and the implications for the individual of being committed to revolution. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Marge Piercy praised Meridian as a fine, taut novel that accomplishes a remarkable amount and noted that Walker writes with a sharp critical sense as she deals with the issues of tactics and strategy in the civil rights movement, with the nature of commitment, the possibility of interracial love and communication, the vital and lethal strands in American and black experience, with violence and nonviolence. The novel received much critical recognition and was praised for its deft handling of complex subject matter. Years after its publication, Robert Towers commented in the New York Review of Books that Meridian remains the most impressive fictional treatment of the Movement that I have yet read.

In her 1982 novel, The Color Purple, Walker brought together many of the characters and themes of her previous works in a book which Peter S. Prescott in Newsweek proclaimed an American novel of permanent importance. The Color Purple is a series of letters written by a southern black woman (Celie), reflecting a history of oppression and abuse suffered at the hands of the men. The book was resoundingly praised for its masterful recreation of black folk speech, in which, as Towers noted, Walker converts Celies subliterate dialect into a medium of remarkable expressiveness, color, and poignancy. Towers added: I find it impossible to imagine Celie apart from her language; through it, not only a memorable and infinitely touching character but a whole submerged world is vividly called into being.

The Color Purple Became a Pulitzer Prize winner

The novel charts Celies resistance to the oppression surrounding her, and the liberation of her existence through positive and supportive relations with other women. Christian notes that perhaps even more than Walkers other works, [The Color Purple] especially affirms that the most abused of the abused can transform herself. It completes the cycle Walker announced a decade ago: the survival and liberation of black women through the strength and wisdom of others. The novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award, and was made into a popular motion picture which received several Academy Award nominations.

Her 1989 novel, The Temple of My Familiar, described by Walker as a romance of the last 500,000 years, represents a departure of sorts for the author, and critical opinion was mixed upon its publication. J. M. Coetzee in the New York Times Book Review described it as a mixture of mythic fantasy, revisionary history, exemplary biography and sermon which is short on narrative tension, long on inspirational message. In the novel, Walker features six characters, three men and three women, who relate their views on life through recounting memories of ancestors and spirits from past cultures. While a number of reviewers faulted the ideological weight of the novel, others commented that the book remained faithful to the concerns of Walkers works. Luci Tapahonso noted in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that the novel focuses on familiar Walker themes, such as compassion for the oppressed, the grief of the oppressors, acceptance of the unchangeable and hope for everyone and every thing.

While Walkers works speak strongly of the experiences of black women, critics have commented that the messages of her books transcend both race and gender. According to Gloria Steinem in Ms., Walker comes at universality through the path of an American black womans experience She speaks the female experience more powerfully for being able to pursue it across boundaries of race and class. Jeanne Fox-Alston in the Chicago Tribune Book World called Walker a provocative writer who writes about blacks in particular, but all humanity in general. In her 1988 prose collection, Living by the Word: Selected Writings, 1973-1977, Walker discusses, through essays and journal entries, topics such as nuclear weapons and racism in other countries. Noel Perrin in the New York Times Book Review wrote that although Walkers original interests centered on black women, and especially on the ways they were abused or underrated now those interests encompass all creation. Derrick Bell commented in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that Walker uses carefully crafted images that provide a universality to unique events. Living by the Word presents vintage Alice Walker: passionate, political, personal, and poetic.

Selected writings

Poetry

Once; Poems, Harcourt, 1968.

Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems, Harcourt, 1973.

Goodnight, Willie Lee, Ill See You in the Morning, Dial, 1979.

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, Harcourt, 1984.

Fiction

The Third Life of Grange Copeland (novel), Harcourt, 1984.

In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, Harcourt, 1973.

Meridian (novel), Harcourt, 1976.

You Cant Keep a Good Woman Down (stories), Harcourt, 1981.

The Color Purple (novel), Harcourt, 1982.

To Hell with Dying (juvenile story), Harcourt, 1988.

The Temple of My Familiar (novel), Harcourt, 1989.

Other

Langston Hughes: American Biography (for children), Crowell, 1973.

(Editor) I Love Myself When Im Laughingand Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive; A Zora Neale Hurston Reader, Feminist Press, 1979.

In Search of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose essays, Harcourt, 1983.

Living by the Word: Selected Writings, 1973-1987 (essays and journal entries), Harcourt, 1988.

Media adaptations

The Color Purple was made into a film and released by Warner Bros. in 1985.

Contributor to numerous books, anthologies, and periodicals; contributing editor to periodicals, including Freedomways and Ms.

Sources

Books

Bell, Roseann P., Bettye J. Parker, and Beverly GuySheftall, editors, Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature, Anchor Press, 1979.

Bestsellers 89, Issue 4, Gale, 1989.

Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Volume 27 (entry contains interview), Gale, 1989.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 5, 1976; Volume 6, 1976; Volume 9, 1978; Volume 19, 1981; Volume 27, 1984; Volume 46, 1988.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 6: American Novelists since World War II, 2nd series, 1980; Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, 1984.

Evans, Mari, editor, Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune Book World, August 1, 1982; September 15, 1985.

CLA Journal, September 1979.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 29, 1988; May 21, 1989.

Ms., February 1974; June 1982.

Negro Digest, September/October 1968.

Newsweek, June 21, 1982.

New York Review of Books, August 12, 1982.

New York Times Book Review, May 26, 1976; June 5 1988; April 30, 1989.

Michael E. Mueller

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Alice Malsenior Walker

Alice Malsenior Walker

Pulitzer prize novelist Alice Walker (born 1944) was best known for her stories about black women who achieve heroic stature within the confines of their ordinary day-to-day lives.

Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia, to Willie Lee and Minnie Tallulah (Grant) Walker. Like many of Walker's fictional characters, she was a sharecropper's daughter and the youngest of eight children. At age eight, Walker was accidentally injured by a BB gun shot to her eye by her brother. Her partial blindness caused her to withdraw and begin writing poetry to ease her loneliness. She found that writing demanded peace and quiet, but these were difficult commodities to come by when ten people lived in four rooms, so she spent a great deal of time working outdoors sitting under a tree.

Walker's Education

Walker attended segregated schools which would be described as inferior by current standards, yet she recalled that she had terrific teachers who encouraged her to believe that the world she was reaching for actually existed. Although Walker grew up in what would traditionally be called a deprived environment, she was sustained by her community and by the knowledge that she could choose her own identity. Moreover, Walker insisted that her mother granted her "permission" to be a writer and gave her the social, spiritual, and moral contexts for her stories. These contexts, as critic Mary Helen Washington explained, were built on personal authority, ancestral presence, "generational continuity, historical awareness, street-wise sophistication [and] cultural integrity."

Upon graduating from high school, Walker secured a scholarship to attend Spelman College in Atlanta, where she got involved in the burgeoning Civil Rights movement. In 1963, Walker received another scholarship and transferred to Sarah Lawrence in New York, where she completed her studies and graduated in 1965 with a B.A. While at Sarah Lawrence, she spent her junior year in Africa as an exchange student. After graduation she worked with the voter registration drive in Georgia and with the Head Start program in Jackson, Mississippi. It was there that she met, and in 1967, married, Melvyn Leventhal, a civil rights lawyer. Their marriage produced one child, Rebecca, before ending in divorce in 1976.

Writing and Teaching Careers Begin

In 1968, Walker published her first collection of poetry, Once. Walker's teaching and writing careers overlapped during the 1970's. She served as a writer-in-residence and as a teacher in the Black Studies program at Jackson State College (1968-1969) and Tougaloo College (1970-1971). While teaching she was at work on her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), which was assisted by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts (1969). She then moved north and taught at Wellesley College and the University of Massachusetts at Boston (both 1972-1973). In 1973 her collection of short stories, In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, and a collection of poetry, Revolutionary Petunias, appeared. She received a Radcliffe Institute fellowship (1971-1973), a Rosenthal Foundation award, and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award (both in 1974) for In Love and Trouble.

In 1976 Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published, followed by a Guggenheim award in 1977-1978. In 1979 another collection of poetry, Goodnight, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning, was published, followed the next year by another collection of short stories, You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (1980). Walker's third novel, The Color Purple was published in 1982, and this work won both a Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award the following year. Walker was also a contributor to several periodicals and in 1983 published many of her essays, a collection titled In Search of Our Mother's Gardens: A Collection of Womanist Prose (1983). Walker worked on her fourth novel while living in Mendocino County outside San Francisco.

Walker's Writing Analyzed

At the time of publication of her first novel (1970) Walker said in a Library Journal interview that, for her, "family relationships are sacred." Indeed, much of Walker's work depicted the emotional, spiritual, and physical devastation that occurs when family trust is betrayed. Her focus is on black women, who grow to reside in a larger world and struggle to achieve independent identities beyond male dominion. Although her characters are strong, they are, nevertheless, vulnerable. Their strength resides in their acknowledged debt to their mothers, to their sensuality, and to their friendships among women. These strengths are celebrated in Walker's work, along with the problems women encounter in their relationships with men who regard them as less significant than themselves merely because they are women. The by-product of this belief is, of course, violence. Hence, Walker's stories focus not so much on the racial violence that occurs among strangers but the violence among friends and family members, a kind of deliberate cruelty, unexpected but always predictable.

Walker began her exploration of the terrors that beset black women's lives in her first collection of short stories, In Love and Trouble. Here, she examined the stereotypes about their lives that misshape them and misguide perceptions about them. Her second short story collection, You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down, dramatizes the resiliency of black women to rebound despite racial, sexual, and economic oppression.

Walker's Novels

Walker's first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, centers on the life of a young black girl, Ruth Copeland, and her grandfather, Grange. As an old man, Grange learns that he is free to love, but love does not come without painful responsibility. At the climax of the novel, Grange summons his newly found knowledge to rescue his granddaughter, Ruth, from his brutal son, Brownfield. The rescue demands that Grange murder his son in order to stop the cycle of deliberate cruelty.

Her second novel, Meridian, recounts the life of a civil rights worker, Meridian Hill. Meridian achieves heroic proportions because she refused to blame others for her own shortcomings, becoming a model for those around her.

Walker's third and most famous novel, The Color Purple, is an epistolary novel about Celie, a woman so down and out that she can only tell God her troubles, which she does in the form of letters. Poor, black, female, alone and uneducated, oppressed by caste, class, and gender, Celie learns to lift herself up from sexual exploitation and brutality with the help of the love of another woman, Shug Avery. Against the backdrop of Celie's letters is another story about African customs. This evolves from her sister Nettie's letters which Celie's husband hid from Celie over the course of 20 years. Here, Walker presented problems of women bound within an African context, encountering many of the same problems that Celie faces. Both Celie and Nettie are restored to one another, and, most important, each is restored to herself.

Walker's Works

Walker's other books include Langston Hughes" American Poet (1973). I Love Myself When I'm Laughing …and then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Thurston Reader (1979), which she edited. Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1986). Living By the Word: Selected Writings, 1973-1987 (1988). Finding the Green Stone (1991) with Catherine Deeter (Illustrator). Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems 1965-1990 Complete (1991). Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992). Everyday Use (Women Writers; 1994) with Barbara T. Christian (Editor). The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult (1996). Archbishop Desmond Tutu: An African Prayer Book (1996) with Desmond Tutu. Banned (1996) with an introduction by Patricia Holt. Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writers Activism (1997).

Further Reading

For biographical information see David Bradley, "Novelist Alice Walker: Telling the Black Woman's Story," The New York Times Magazine (January 8, 1984). Gloria Steinem, "Do You Know This Woman? She Knows You: A Profile of Alice Walker," Ms. (June 1982). For critical information see Deb Price, "Alice Through the Looking Glass," The Detroit News (March 1, 1996). David Templeton, "Difficult Honor," Sonoma Independent, (February 15-21, 1996). Barbara Christian, Black Feminist Criticism (1985). Mari Evans, Black Women Writers, 1950-1980 (1983). Claudia Tate, Black Women Writers at Work (1983). For information on the World Wide Web (1997) see "Anniina's Alice Walker Page" at http://www.luminarium.org/contemporary/alicew/ and "Alice Walker—Womanist Writer" at http://www.vms.utexas.edu/~melindaj/alice.html □

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Walker, Alice

Alice Walker

Born: February 9, 1944
Eatonton, Georgia

African American novelist

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker is best known for her stories about African American women who achieve heroic stature within the borders of their ordinary day-to-day lives.

Early life

Alice Malsenior Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia, to Willie Lee and Minnie Tallulah (Grant) Walker. Like many of Walker's fictional characters, she was the daughter of a sharecropper (a farmer who rents his land), and the youngest of eight children. At age eight, Walker was accidentally injured by a BB gun shot to her eye by her brother. Her partial blindness caused her to withdraw from normal childhood activities and begin writing poetry to ease her loneliness. She found that writing demanded peace and quiet, but these were difficult things to come by when ten people lived in four rooms. She spent a great deal of time working outdoors sitting under a tree.

Walker attended segregated (separated by race) schools which would be described as inferior by current standards, yet she recalled that she had terrific teachers who encouraged her to believe the world she was reaching for actually existed. Although Walker grew up in a poor environment, she was supported by her community and by the knowledge that she could choose her own identity. Moreover, Walker insisted that her mother granted her "permission" to be a writer and gave her the social, spiritual, and moral substance for her stories.

Upon graduating from high school, Walker secured a scholarship to attend Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, where she got involved in the growing Civil Rights movement, a movement which called for equal rights among all races. In 1963, Walker received another scholarship and transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she completed her studies and graduated in 1965 with a bachelor's degree. While at Sarah Lawrence, she spent her junior year in Africa as an exchange student. After graduation she worked with a voter registration drive in Georgia and the Head Start program (a program to educate poorer children) in Jackson, Mississippi. It was there she met, and in 1967 married, Melvyn Leventhal, a civil rights lawyer. Their marriage produced one child, Rebecca, before ending in divorce in 1976.

Writing and teaching careers begin

In 1968, Walker published her first collection of poetry, Once. Walker's teaching and writing careers overlapped during the 1970s. She served as a writer-in-residence and as a teacher in the Black Studies program at Jackson State College in Tennessee (196869) and Tougaloo College in Mississippi (197071). While teaching she was at work on her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), which was assisted by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts (1969; a government program to provide money to artists). She then moved north and taught at Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, and the University of Massachusetts at Boston (both 197273). In 1973 her collection of short stories, In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, and a collection of poetry, Revolutionary Petunias, appeared. She received a Radcliffe Institute scholarship (197173), a Rosenthal Foundation award, and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award (both in 1974) for In Love and Trouble.

In 1976 Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published, followed by a Guggenheim award (in 19771978). In 1979 another collection of poetry, Goodnight, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning, was published, followed the next year by another collection of short stories, You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (1980).

Walker's third novel, The Color Purple was published in 1982, and this work won both a Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award the following year. Walker was also a contributor to several periodicals and in 1983 published many of her essays, a collection titled In Search of Our Mother's Gardens: A Collection of Womanist Prose (1983). Walker worked on her fourth novel while living in Mendocino County outside San Francisco, California.

Walker's novels

Walker's first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, centers on the life of a young African American girl, Ruth Copeland, and her grandfather, Grange. As an old man, Grange learns that he is free to love, but love does not come without painful responsibility. At the climax of the novel, Grange summons his newly found knowledge to rescue his granddaughter, Ruth, from his brutal son, Brownfield. The rescue demands that Grange murder his son in order to stop the cycle of cruelty.

Walker's third and most famous novel, The Color Purple, is about Celie, a woman so down and out that she can only tell God her troubles, which she does in the form of letters. Poor, black, female, alone and uneducated, held down by class and gender, Celie learns to lift herself up from sexual exploitation and brutality with the help of the love of another woman, Shug Avery. Against the backdrop of Celie's letters is another story about African customs. This evolves from her sister Nettie's letters which Celie's husband hid from Celie over the course of twenty years. Here, Walker presented problems of women bound within an African context, encountering many of the same problems that Celie faces. Both Celie and Nettie are restored to one another, and, most important, each is restored to herself.

Walker's writing analyzed

At the time of publication of Walker's first novel (in 1970), she said in a Library Journal interview that, for her, "family relationships are sacred." Indeed, much of Walker's work describes the emotional, spiritual, and physical devastation that occurs when family trust is betrayed. Her focus is on African American women, who live in a larger world and struggle to achieve independent identities beyond male domination. Although her characters are strong, they are, nevertheless, vulnerable. Their strength resides in their acknowledged debt to their mothers, to their sensuality, and to their friendships among women. These strengths are celebrated in Walker's work, along with the problems women encounter in their relationships with men who regard them as less significant than themselves merely because they are women. What comes out of this belief is, of course, violence. Hence Walker's stories focus not so much on the racial violence that occurs among strangers but the violence among friends and family members, a kind of deliberate cruelty, unexpected but always predictable.

Walker began her exploration of the terrors that beset African American women's lives in her first collection of short stories, In Love and Trouble. Here she examined the stereotypes about their lives that misshape them and misguide perceptions about them. Her second short story collection, You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down, dramatizes the strength of African American women to rebound despite racial, sexual, and economic difficulties.

For More Information

Bloom, Harold, ed. Alice Walker. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.

Gentry, Tony. Alice Walker. New York: Chelsea, 1993.

Lauret, Maria. Alice Walker. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Walker, Alice. The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart. New York: Random House, 2000.

Winchell, Donna Haisty. Alice Walker. New York: Twayne, 1992.

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Walker, Alice

Alice Walker, 1944–, African-American novelist and poet, b. Eatonon, Ga. The daughter of sharecroppers, she studied at Spelman College (1961–63) and Sarah Lawrence College (B.A., 1965). She brings her travel experience in Africa and memories of the American civil-rights movement to an examination of the experience of African Americans, mainly in the South, and of Africans. A self-described "womanist," she has maintained a strong focus on feminist issues within African-American culture. Walker won wide recognition with her novel The Color Purple (1982; Pulitzer Prize; film, 1985), a dark but sometimes joyous saga of a poor black Southern woman's painful journey toward self-realization. Among her other novels are Meridian (1976), The Temple of My Familiar (1989), By the Light of My Father's Smile (1994), and Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart (2004). Her short-story collections include You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (1981) and the partially autobiographical The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart (2000). She has also written poetry, such as Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973), Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems 1965–1990 (1991), and Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth (2003). Many of her essays are collected in Living by the Word (1988) and Anything We Love Can Be Saved (1997).

See biography by E. C. White (2004); studies by D. W. Winchell (1992), H. L. Gates et al., ed. (1993), and Ikenna Dieke, ed. (1999).

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Walker, Alice (Malsenior)

WALKER, Alice (Malsenior)

Nationality: American. Born: Eatonton, Georgia, 9 February 1944. Education: Spelman College, Atlanta, 1961-63; Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, 1963-65, B.A. 1965. Family: Married Melvyn R. Leventhal in 1967 (divorced 1976); one daughter. Career: Voter registration and Head Start program worker, Mississippi, and with New York City Department of Welfare, mid-1960s; teacher, Jackson State College, 1968-69, and Tougaloo College, 1970-71, both Mississippi; lecturer, Wellesley College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1972-73, and University of Massachusetts, Boston, 1972-73; associate professor of English, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, after 1977. Distinguished Writer, University of California, Berkeley, Spring 1982; Fannie Hurst Professor, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, Fall 1982. Co-founder and publisher, Wild Trees Press, Navarro, California, 1984-88. Awards: Bread Loaf Writers Conference scholarship, 1966; American Scholar prize, for essay, 1967; Merrill fellowship, 1967; MacDowell fellowship, 1967, 1977; Radcliffe Institute fellowship, 1971; Lillian Smith award, for poetry, 1973; American Academy Rosenthal award, 1974; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1977; Guggenheim grant, 1978; American Book award, 1983; Pulitzer prize, 1983; O. Henry award, 1986; Nora Astorga Leadership award, 1989; Fred Cody award for lifetime achievement, Bay Area Book Reviewers Association, 1990; Freedom to Write award, PEN Center USA West, 1990; Shelia award, Tubman African American Museum, 1998. Ph.D.: Russell Sage College, Troy, New York, 1972; D.H.L.: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1983. Lives in San Francisco. Address: c/o Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., 1250 Sixth Avenue, San Diego, California 92101, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

The Third Life of Grange Copeland. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1970; London, Women's Press, 1985.

Meridian. New York, Harcourt Brace, and London, Deutsch, 1976.

The Color Purple. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1982; London, Women'sPress, 1983.

The Temple of My Familiar. San Diego, Harcourt Brace, and London, Women's Press, 1989.

Possessing the Secret of Joy. New York, Harcourt Brace, and London, Cape, 1992.

By the Light of My Father's Smile. New York, Random House, 1998.

Short Stories

In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women. New York, HarcourtBrace, 1973; London, Women's Press, 1984.

You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1981; London, Women's Press, 1982.

Complete Short Stories, London, Women's Press, n.d.

Everyday Use, edited by Barbara T. Christian. New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1994.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Cuddling," in Essence (New York), July 1985.

"Kindred Spirits," in Prize Stories 1986, edited by William Abrahams. New York, Doubleday, 1986.

Poetry

Once. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1968; London, Women's Press, 1986.

Five Poems. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1972.

Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems. New York, HarcourtBrace, 1973; London, Women's Press, 1988.

Good Night, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning. New York, DialPress, 1979; London, Women's Press, 1987.

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful. New York, HarcourtBrace, 1984; London, Women's Press, 1985.

Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems 1965-1990.

San Diego, Harcourt Brace, and London, Women's Press, 1991.

Other (for children)

Langston Hughes, American Poet (biography). New York, Crowell, 1974.

To Hell with Dying. San Diego, Harcourt Brace, and London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1988.

Finding the Green Stone. San Diego, Harcourt Brace, and London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1991.

Other

In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1983; London, Women's Press, 1984.

Living by the Word: Selected Writings 1973-1987. San Diego, Harcourt Brace, and London, Women's Press, 1988.

Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women, with Pratibha Parmar. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1993.

The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult, A Meditation on Life, Spirit, Art, and the Making of The Film The Color Purple, Ten Years Later. New York, Scribner, 1996.

Alice Walker Banned. San Francisco, Aunt Lute Books, 1996.

Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism. New York, Random House, 1997.

The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart. New York, RandomHouse, 2000.

Editor, I Love Myself When I Am Laughing and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader. Old Westbury, New York, Feminist Press, 1979.

*

Bibliography:

Alice Malsenior Walker: An Annotated Bibliography 1968-1986 by Louis H. Pratt and Darnell D. Pratt, Westport, Connecticut, Meckler, 1988; Alice Walker: An Annotated Bibliography 1968-1986 by Erma Davis Banks and Keith Byerman, London, Garland, 1989.

Critical Studies:

Brodie's Notes on Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" by Marion Picton, London, Pan, 1991; Alice Walker by Conna Histy Winchell, New York, Twayne, 1992; Alice Walker by Tony Gentry, New York, Chelsea, 1993; Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston: The Common Bond edited by Lillie P. Howard, Westport, Connecticut, and London, Greedwood Press, 1993; Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present edited by Henry Louis Gates and K.A. Appiah, New York, Amistad, 1993; Black Feminist Consciousness by Kashinath Ranveer, Jaipur, India, Printwell, 1995; The Voices of African American Women: The Use of Narrative and Authorial Voice in the Works of Harriet Jacobs, Zora Neale Hurston, and Alice Walker by Yvonne Johnson, New York, P. Lang, 1998; Critical Essays on Alice Walker, edited by Ikenna Dieke, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1999; Alice Walker by Maria Lauret, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1999; Alice Walker: Freedom Writer by Caroline Lazo, Minneapolis, Lerner Publications, 2000; Alice Walker, edited by Harold Bloom, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chelsea House Publishers, 2000; Alice Walker in the Classroom: Living by the Word by Carol Jago, Urbana, Illinois, National Council of Teachers of English, 2000.

* * *

With the publication of a single startling novel, The Color Purple, Alice Walker almost single-handedly brought the struggle of the African-American female into public view for the general reading audience in the United States. It paved the way for later novels like Toni Morrison's Beloved, to which it is often compared, to find a wider and more willing readership among audiences of all ethnic backgrounds.

While none of her novels since that one have achieved quite the same level of notoriety or are so frequently taught in schools and universities, there is no doubt that Walker's prolific and persistent political, cultural, and spiritual journeys through writing have engaged a national dialogue about important issues such as women's rights, race, and identity. Walker is an activist in each of the political, cultural, and spiritual spheres, as her many nonfiction titles attest. Her novels thus far include The Third Life of Grange Copeland and Meridian, which appeared before The Color Purple, and The Temple of My Familiar, Possessing the Secret of Joy, and By the Light of My Father's Smile, which appeared afterward. In her novels, as well as in her short fiction, essays, and poetry, Walker's activism is prevalent. In the novels, however, this activism runs the risk of didacticism. In other words, some of Walker's novels work more successfully as stories than others do.

Her second novel, Meridian, is a story about a civil rights activist from the 1960s and what happens to her during and after the movement on a personal level. In this novel, the political movement causes some real-life changes in Meridian, the protagonist. For example, she leaves her husband and child to join the movement with Truman, and she is given a scholarship as a result of her involvement. The struggles of the movement become even more complex, however, when they become personal and things do not always go as Meridian plans. Truman deserts her for a white woman, and college requires too much conformity. People in the movement change sides and loyalties are put into question. In some ways, Walker seems to be questioning the value of political activism throughout this book in a healthy sort of way. However, the reader considers these larger questions as a result of Meridian's experiences, not as a result of an imposing hand of the author.

Walker turned to the cultural sphere in The Color Purple. Celie survives incest and domestic abuse to gain more and more confidence in her own abilities and talents. In many ways, the novel is a classic American rags to riches story of sorts, which may account in part for the reason it, and the feature film made of the story, remain popular. However, Celie's voice throughout the novel is most engaging and creative on Walker's part. In a way much like James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the reader can chart Celie's progress and growth through her narrative of her own story. While some coincidences seem unlikely in the story (e.g. Celie gaining the inheritance just in time to make her happy by the end of the novel), the voice that was found not only by Celie, but by many silent late-twentieth-century women who were reading her story, easily overcomes the novel's occasional flaws.

Possessing the Secret of Joy contains a character who appears briefly in The Color Purple, but the novel itself is not as successful and represents the other type of Walker novel, where activism dominates story. Celie's daughter-in-law, Tashi, the young African woman married to Adam, suffers female circumcision in Africa and later returns to murder the woman who did it, M'Lissa. The novel takes a strong stand against the practice of female circumcision and becomes almost an argumentative essay against the practice rather than a story about Tashi's experience.

If Walker is social critic in Secret of Joy, she becomes a medium of sorts in an earlier, longer novel, The Temple of My Familiar. The book is about memory and family history being handed down, and the multiplicity of voices in the novel both fascinates and frustrates critics. Many find form surpassing content, which again distracts from the story at hand.

Unfortunately, the trend to move away from sound storytelling continues in By the Light of My Father's Smile. In a final act that might be prophetic to Walker's work, novelist Susannah becomes a human sacrifice and dies along with her books. The scene appears to be either a subconscious act of placing writers on some kind of martyr's pyre in terms of their activism, or Walker's attempt to kill off the novelist she feels may be dying a slow death anyway within her own creative energies. One can only wonder what will happen to Walker's dead activist novelist, whether she will resurrect or enjoy an afterlife returning to good storytelling.

Connie Ann Kirk

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Walker, Alice

Walker, Alice (1944– ) African-American writer. Her volumes of poetry include Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973). Walker won a Pulitzer Prize for her epistolary novel The Color Purple (1982). Other works include In Search of My Mother's Garden (1983).

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