Alice Walker (née Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker)
February 9, 1944 – Present
Notable: Author & Poet
Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia the last of Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Tallulah Grant’s eight children. Walker’s parents worked hard as sharecroppers and her mother earned extra money working as a maid and seamstress but they still struggled to support the family. Despite their financial difficulties, Walker remembered her parents as being great storytellers who abundantly provided in other ways rendering the family’s poverty a nonfactor.
At the age of eight-years-old, Walker’s brother accidentally shot her in the eye with a BB pellet. Unable to reach a hospital, Walker became blind in that eye as scar tissue formed around the injury. The injury set Walker apart from her siblings and peers. It made her self-conscious and affected her self-esteem causing her to become shy and withdrawn from others.
In consolation, her mother gave her a typewriter and encouraged her to write instead of doing chores. The scar tissue would eventually be removed when Walker was 14-years-old but those years spent partially blind and focused on reading and writing would have a tremendous impact on her life.
Despite her insecurities and growing up in the segregated South, Walker was a good student and graduated as valedictorian of her class. She enrolled at Spelman College in 1961 on a scholarship and attended school there for two years. She then transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in New York from which she would graduate in 1965. During her college years, Walker participated in on-campus protests at Spelman, a study-abroad program in Africa, and the Youth World Peace Festival in Finland.
After graduation, Walker worked in New York City for a while at the Department of Welfare before relocating to Jackson, Mississippi. Upon returning to the South, she found work as a teacher but also became more deeply involved with the Civil Rights Movement. During this time she also served as the writer in residence at Jackson State University and later Tougaloo College.
In 1967, she met Melvyn R. Leventhal, a White civil rights attorney and organizer. They married in New York City before returning to Mississippi where they became the state’s first legally married interracial couple. The union would produce one daughter, Rebecca, but would end in divorce in 1976.
While at Sarah Lawrence, Walker had studied poetry with Muriel Rukeyser who would play an important role in the 1968 publication of Once, Walker’s first book of poetry. Two years later, Walker would release her first novel, Third Life of Grange Copeland. Walker would be very productive during the 1970s releasing her second volume of poetry, a second novel, a children’s book, and a collection of short stories.
A few years after her divorce, Walker moved to California by which point her writing had brought a lot of attention to her as a Black feminist. But her notoriety as a writer would reach new heights with the 1982 release of what would become her most famous book. Her third novel, The Color Purple, followed the life of Celie, a Black woman coming of age in rural Georgia. The novel spent 25 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list and won both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction.
The Color Purple was adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg which starred Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and several other stars. It would later be adapted for a Broadway musical which was produced by Winfrey and Quincy Jones. The book and its adaptations were extremely successful but received some backlash for its inclusion of lesbian relationships and negative portrayals of Black men. Walker herself had some issues with the film adaptation but later made peace with Spielberg’s version of her story.
Alice Walker would continue to write and publish poems, short stories, and novels. While writing in a variety of formats and across various periods, Walker’s work continues to primarily focus on the lives and experiences of Black women. In addition to writing, Walker has continued to be an outspoken activist on the issues of female genital mutilation, gender equality, and climate change.
- “Alice Walker.” 2020. Biography.com. A&E Networks Television. March 2, 2020. https://www.biography.com/writer/alice-walker.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2020. “Alice Walker.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. February 5, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alice-Walker.
- Lewis, Jone Johnson. 2020. “Biography of Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize Winning Writer.” ThoughtCo. October 17, 2020. https://www.thoughtco.com/alice-walker-biography-3528342.
- Rivas, Aby. 2020. “Inside ‘Color Purple’ Writer Alice Walker’s Rise from Poor Childhood to Pulitzer Prize.” News.amomama.com. news.amomama.com. June 15, 2020. https://news.amomama.com/212543-alice-walkers-rise-poor-childhood-pulitz.html.
- Whitted, Qiana. 2020. “Alice Walker (b. 1944).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. July 17, 2020. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/alice-walker-b-1944.
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