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Alice Walker

Alice Walker
Born February 9, 1944 (1944-02-09) (age 66)
Eatonton, Georgia, USA
Occupation novelist, short story writer, poet
Genres African American literature
Notable work(s) The Color Purple
Notable award(s) Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
1983

National Book Award
1983

Official website

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

Contents

Early life

Alice Malsenior Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, the youngest of eight children, to Willie Lee and Minnie Lou [Tallulah] (Grant) Walker. Her father, who was, in her words, "wonderful at math but a terrible farmer," earned only $300 a year from sharecropping and dairy farming, while her mother, who helped him in the fields, supplemented the family income by working as a maid.[1]

Living under Jim Crow Laws, Walker's mother had struggles with landlords who expected the children of black sharecroppers to work the fields as soon as possible. A white plantation owner once asserted to her that blacks had “no need for education.” Mrs. Walker’s response to him was ‘You might have some black children somewhere, but they don’t live in this house. Don’t you ever come around here again talking about how my children don’t need to learn how to read and write.” At the age of 4, Mrs. Walker enrolled Alice into the first grade, a year ahead of schedule.[2]

Growing up with an oral tradition, listening to stories from her grandfather (the model for the character for Mr. in "The Color Purple"), [Walker] was writing—very privately—since she was 8. "With my family, I had to hide things," she said. "And I had to keep a lot in my mind."[3]

In 1952 Walker was accidentally wounded in the right eye by a shot from a BB gun fired by one of her brothers.[4] Because they had no access to a car, the Walkers were unable to take their daughter to a hospital for immediate treatment, and when they finally brought her to a doctor a week later, she was permanently blind in that eye. A disfiguring layer of scar tissue formed over it, rendering the previously outgoing child self-conscious and painfully shy. Stared at and sometimes taunted, she felt like an outcast and turned for solace to reading and to poetry writing. Although when she was 14 the scar tissue was removed—and she subsequently became valedictorian and was voted most-popular girl, as well as queen of her senior class—she came to realize that her traumatic injury had some value: it allowed her to begin "really to see people and things, really to notice relationships and to learn to be patient enough to care about how they turned out," as she has said.[1]

Activism

Alice Walker met Martin Luther King Jr. when she was a student at Spelman College in Atlanta in the early 1960s. Walker credits King for her decision to return to the South as an activist for the Civil Rights Movement. She attended the famous 1963 March on Washington. As a young adult she volunteered her time registering voters in Georgia and Mississippi [5][6].

On March 8, 2003, International Women's Day, on the eve of the Iraq War, Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston, author of "The Woman Warrior", and Terry Tempest Williams, author of "An Unspoken Hunger" were arrested along with 24 others for crossing a police line during an anti-war protest rally outside the White House. Walker and 5,000 other activists associated with the organizations Code Pink and Women for Peace, marched from Malcolm X Park in Washington D.C. to the White House. The activists encircled the White House, holding hands and singing. In an interview with Democracy Now, Walker said of the incident, "I was with other women who believe that the women and children of Iraq are just as dear as the women and children in our families, and that, in fact, we are one family. And so it would have felt to me that we were going over to actually bomb ourselves." Walker wrote about the experience in her essay "We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For."[7]

In November 2008, Alice Walker wrote "An Open Letter to Barack Obama" that was published on Theroot.com. Walker addresses the newly elected President as "Brother Obama" and writes "Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina, and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about"[8].

In March 2009, Alice Walker traveled to Gaza along with a group of 60 other female activists from the anti-war group Code Pink, in response to the devastation in the wake of the controversial Israeli offensive of December 2008-January 2009. The purpose of the trip was to deliver aid, to meet with NGOs and residents, and to persuade Israel and Egypt to open their borders into Gaza. She plans to visit Gaza again in December 2009 to participate in the Gaza Freedom March [9].

Personal life

After high school, Walker went to Spelman College in Atlanta on a full scholarship in 1961 and later transferred to Sarah Lawrence College near New York City, graduating in 1965. Walker became interested in the U.S. civil rights movement in part due to the influence of activist Howard Zinn, who was one of her professors at Spelman College. Continuing the activism that she participated in during her college years, Walker returned to the South where she became involved with voter registration drives, campaigns for welfare rights, and children's programs in Mississippi [10].

In 1965, Walker met and later married Mel Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer. They were married on March 17, 1967 in New York City. Later that year the couple relocated to Jackson, Mississippi, becoming "the first legally married inter-racial couple in Mississippi"[11][12]. This brought them a steady stream of harassment and even murderous threats from the Ku Klux Klan. The couple had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1969 and she described in 2008 as being "a living, breathing, mixed-race embodiment of the new America that they were trying to forge"[13]. Walker and her husband divorced amicably in 1976. Walker would later become estranged from her daughter, who felt that she was more of "a political symbol... than a cherished daughter". Rebecca would later publish a memoir entitled Black White and Jewish, chronicling the effects of her parents' relationship on her childhood [14] [15].

In the mid-1990s, Walker was involved in a romance with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman [16].

Writing career and success

Alice Walker at the Miami Book Fair International of 1989

Walker's first book of poetry was written while she was still a senior at Sarah Lawrence, and she took a brief sabbatical from writing when she was in Mississippi working in the civil rights movement. Walker resumed her writing career when she joined Ms. magazine as an editor before moving to northern California in the late 1970s. An article she published in 1975 was largely responsible for the renewal of interest in the work of Zora Neale Hurston, who was a large source of inspiration for Walker's writing and subject matter. In 1973, Walker and fellow Hurston scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered Hurston's unmarked grave in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Both women paid for a modest headstone for the gravesite.[17]

In addition to her collected short stories and poetry, Walker's first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, was published in 1970. In 1976, Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published. The novel dealt with activist workers in the South during the civil rights movement, and closely paralleled some of Walker's own experiences.

In 1982, Walker would publish what has become her best-known work, the novel The Color Purple. The story of a young black woman fighting her way through not only racist white culture but patriarchal black culture was a resounding commercial success. The book became a bestseller and was subsequently adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie as well as a 2005 Broadway musical play.

Walker has written several other novels, including The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy (which featured several characters and descendants of characters from The Color Purple) and has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other published work.

Her works typically focus on the struggles of blacks, particularly women, and their struggle against a racist, sexist, and violent society. Her writings also focus on the role of women of color in culture and history. Walker is a respected figure in the liberal political community for her support of unconventional and unpopular views as a matter of principle.

Additionally, Walker has published several short stories, including the 1973 Everyday Use, in which she discusses feminism, racism against blacks, and the issues raised by young black people who leave home and lose respect for their parents' culture.[18]

In 2007, Walker gave 122 boxes of manuscripts and archive material to Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library[19]. In addition to drafts of writings such as The Color Purple, unpublished poems and writings, and correspondence with editors, the collection includes extensive correspondence with family members, friends and colleagues, an early treatment of the film script for The Color Purple that was never used, syllabi from courses she taught, and fan mail. The collection also contains a scrapbook of poetry compiled when Walker was 15 entitled "Poems of a Childhood Poetess".

In 2009, she was one of the signers of a letter protesting the inclusion of films about Israel at the Toronto Film Festival.

Selected awards and honors

Selected works

Novels and short story collections
Poetry collections
  • Once (1968)
  • Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973)
  • Good Night, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning (1979)
  • Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1985)
  • Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems (1991)
  • Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth (2003)
  • A Poem Traveled Down My Arm: Poems And Drawings (2003)
  • Collected Poems (2005)
  • Poem at Thirty-Nine
Non-fiction
  • In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)
  • Living by the Word (1988)
  • Warrior Marks (1993)
  • The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult (1996)
  • Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism (1997)
  • Go Girl!: The Black Woman's Book of Travel and Adventure (1997)
  • Pema Chodron and Alice Walker in Conversation (1999)
  • Sent By Earth: A Message from the Grandmother Spirit After the Bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon (2001)
  • We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For (2006)
  • Mississippi Winter IV

Notes

  1. ^ a b World Authors 1995-2000. 2003. Retrieved 10 Apr. 2009, from Biography Reference Bank database.
  2. ^ White, Evelyn C. "Alice Walker: A Life." W.W. Norton & Company. New York, NY 2004. 14-15.
  3. ^ Mel, Gussow. "Once Again, Alice Walker Is Ready to Embrace Her Freedom to Change." New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York. N.Y.:Dec 26, 2000. pg E.1.
  4. ^ http://enloehs.wcpss.net/resources/kingsberry/propaganda.pdf
  5. ^ Democracy Now - Walker Interview transcript and audio file on "Inner Light in A time of darkness Accessed 10 February 2010
  6. ^ Democracy Now video on the African American Vote Accessed 10 February 2010
  7. ^ Press release "Notable Women Arrested Protesting Against the War with Iraq" Accessed 12 February 2010
  8. ^ Open Letter to Obama Accessed February 2010
  9. ^ Gaza Freedom March Accessed February 2010
  10. ^ On Finding Your Bliss. Interview by Evelyn C. White October 1998 accessed 14 June 2007
  11. ^ Times article The day feminist icon Alice Walker resigned as my mother
  12. ^ "Inner Light in a Time of Darkness: A Conversation with Author and Poet Alice Walker". Democracy Now!. 2006-11-17. http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/11/17/1454228. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  13. ^ Times article The day feminist icon Alice Walker resigned as my mother
  14. ^ Daily Mail article by Rebecca Walker: How my mother's fanatical views tore us apart
  15. ^ The Times article The day feminist icon Alice Walker resigned as my mother Accessed February 2010
  16. ^ Guardian Article Friday 15 December 2006 - Interview with Walker No Retreat Accessed February 2010
  17. ^ Extract from "Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism" by Alice Walker published by The Women's Press Ltd, 1997
  18. ^ Walker, Alice. "Everyday Use." Perrine's Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense. Comp. Thomas R. Arp. New York: Harcourt Brace College, 1994. 90-97.
  19. ^ Justice, Elaine. "Alice Walker Places Her Archive at Emory" Emory University News, Dec. 18, 2007

References

White, Evelyn C. (2005). Alice Walker: A Life. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-3933-2826-0. 
Walker, Alice and Parmar, Pratibha (1993). Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women. Diane Books Publishing Company. ISBN 0-7881-5581-4. 

External links

Video


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.

Alice Malsenior Walker (born 9 February 1944) is an African American author whose most famous novel, The Color Purple, won both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award.

Contents

Sourced

  • He has told me he likes men as well as he likes women, which seems only natural, he says, since he is the offspring of two sexes as well as two races. No one is surprised he is biracial; why should they be surprised he is bisexual? This is an explanation I have never heard and cannot entirely grasp; it seems too logical for my brain.
  • I felt in Georgia and on the east coast generally very squeezed. People have so many hang-ups about how other people live their lives. People always want to keep you in a little box or they need to label you and fix you in time and location. I feel a greater fluidity here. People are much more willing to accept that nothing is permanent, everything is changeable so there is freedom and I do need to live where I can be free.
  • The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.
    • As quoted in The Best Liberal Quotes Ever : Why the Left is Right (2004) by William P. Martin, p. 173
  • I want a grown-up attitude to Cuba, for instance, a country and people I love. I want an end to the war immediately, and I want the soldiers to be encouraged to destroy their weapons and drive themselves out of Iraq. I want the Israeli government to be made accountable for its behaviour to the Palestinians, and I want the people of the US to cease acting as if they don't understand what is going on. But most of all I want someone with the confidence to talk to anyone, "enemy" or "friend", and this Obama has shown he can do.

The Color Purple (1982)

  • Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that trees do everything to get attention we do, except walk?
  • They calls me yellow like yellow be my name. They calls me yellow like yellow be my name. But if yellow is a name Why aint black the same. Well, if I say Hey black girl Lord, she try to ruin my game.
  • I don’t know nothing, I think. And glad of it.
  • The little I knew about my own self wouldn’t have filled a thimble!
  • Niggers going to Africa, he said to his wife. Now I have seen everything.
  • We know a roofleaf is not Jesus Christ, but in its own humble way, is it not God?
  • The world is changing, I said. It is no longer a world just for boys and men.
  • I think Africans are very much like white people back home, in that they think they are the center of the universe and that everything that is done is done for them.
  • I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.

Unsourced

  • The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.
  • Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.
  • People do not wish to appear foolish; to avoid the appearance of foolishness, they are willing to remain actually fools.
  • When the axe came to the forest the trees said the handle is one of us.
  • No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.
  • I try to teach my heart not to want things it can't have.
  • Don't wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you've got to make yourself.

External links

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