#93: Alice Walker


alice walker sitting in a chairAlice Walker was born in 1944 in Georgia. She was the eighth child of sharecropping parents. She began school early, at the age of four, due to her precociousness. When she was 8, Alice was accidentally shot with a BB gun and blinded in her right eye. This accident left a scar, of which Alice was very self-conscious for several years, until she underwent an operation to minimize it when she was 14.

Alice was the valedictorian of her graduating class, the prom queen, and voted most popular girl. After leaving high school, she attended Spelman College, where she became an active participant in the burgeoning Civil Rights movement. In 1963, Alice transferred from Spelman to Sarah Lawrence College, from which she graduated in the winter of 1964.

After leaving Sarah Lawrence, Alice continued to agitate for Civil Rights and began to write. She also moved to New York City, where she took a job at the welfare department. In 1966, she was awarded her first writing grant. She moved to Mississippi to write.

While she was in Mississippi, Alice met her husband, Jewish civil rights attorney Melvyn Leventhal. The two married in 1967, in New York, then returned to Mississippi, where they were the first legally married interracial couple in the state. Alice worked for Head Start and a voter registration campaign, and continued to write. In 1969, she had her only child, daughter Rebecca.

In 1968-69, Alice became the writer in residence at Jackson State College. In 1970, Alice published her first novel, The Strange Life of Grange Copeland, and in 1970-71 she was the writer in residence at Tougaloo College. In 1971, Alice left the south to take a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship. She and Rebecca then moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Alice got a job teaching first at Wellesley, then at the University of Massachusetts. In these positions, she began to teach some of the first African-American literature courses in the country. She also continued to publish books of poetry and short stories.

In 1974, Alice and her family returned to New York, where Alice continued to write and began working for Ms. Magazine. In 1976, she published her second novel, Meridian. She and her husband also decided to divorce. On the strength of Meridian, Alice received a Guggenheim Foundation grant in 1978. It was during this time of intense writing that she began work on her most celebrated novel, The Color Purple.

The Color Purple was released in 1982. In 1983, Alice won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction--the first African-American novelist to do so. She continued to teach, at Berkeley and Brandeis, and to write, publishing a book of "womanist prose" in 1983.

Throughout the 1980s, Alice continued to publish poetry and prose, and in 1985, The Color Purple was released as a film, which went on to be nominated for 11 Oscars.

In 1992, Alice released a new kind of novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy, which chronicled the horror of female genital mutilation. In 1993, she followed the book up with a documentary on the subject, Warrior Marks.

Since the mid-90s, Alice has continued her work as an author and an activist. Her most recent book, a children's book called "Why War Is Never a Good Idea," was published in September, 2007.

About: Women's History
Living By Grace
The Literary Encyclopedia

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