Alice Walker

Alice Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and social activist. In 1982, she wrote the novel The Color Purple, for which she won the National Book Award for hardcover fiction, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[2][3] She also wrote the novels Meridian (1976) and The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970). An avowed feminist, Walker coined the term "womanist" to mean "A black feminist or feminist of color" in 1983.[4]

Alice Walker
Walker in 2007
Born (1944-02-09) February 9, 1944
Eatonton, Georgia, U.S.
OccupationNovelist, short story writer, poet, political activist
Alma materSpelman College
Sarah Lawrence College
GenreAfrican-American literature
Notable worksThe Color Purple
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for Fiction
National Book Award
SpouseMelvyn Rosenman Leventhal (married 1967, divorced 1976)
PartnerRobert L. Allen, Tracy Chapman
ChildrenRebecca Walker

Early life

Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, a rural farming town, to Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Tallulah Grant.[5][6] Both of Walker's parents were sharecroppers, though her mother also worked as a seamstress to earn extra money. Walker, the youngest of eight children, was first enrolled in school when she was just four years old at East Putnam Consolidated.[5][7]

When eight, Walker sustained an injury to her right eye after one of her brothers fired a BB gun.[7] Since her family did not have access to a car, Walker could not receive immediate medical attention, causing her to become permanently blind in that eye. It was after the injury to her eye that Walker began to take up reading and writing.[5] The scar tissue was removed when Walker was 14, but a mark still remains. It is described in her essay "Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self."[8][7]

As the schools in Eatonton were segregated, Walker attended the only high school available to blacks: Butler Baker High School.[7] She went there to become valedictorian and enrolled in Spelman College in 1961 after being granted a full scholarship by the state of Georgia for having the highest academic achievements of her class.[5] She found two of her professors, Howard Zinn and Staughton Lynd, to be great mentors during her time at Spelman, but both were transferred two years later.[7] Walker was offered another scholarship, this time from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and after the firing of her Spelman professor, Howard Zinn, Walker accepted the offer.[8] Walker became pregnant at the start of her senior year and had an abortion; this experience, as well as the bout of suicidal thoughts that followed, inspired much of the poetry found in Once, Walker's first collection of poetry.[8] Walker graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1965.[8]

Writing career

Walker wrote the poems of her first book of poetry, Once, while she was a student in East Africa and during her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College.[9] Walker would slip her poetry under the office door of her professor and mentor, Muriel Rukeyser, when she was a student at Sarah Lawrence. Rukeyser then showed the poems to her agent. Once was published four years later by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.[10][8]

Following graduation, Walker briefly worked for the New York City Department of Welfare, before returning to South. She took a job working for the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Jackson, Mississippi.[7] Walker also worked as a consultant in black history to the Friends of the Children of Mississippi Head Start program. She later returned to writing as writer-in-residence at Jackson State University (1968–69) and Tougaloo College (1970–71). In addition to her work at Tougaloo College, Walker published her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, in 1970. The novel explores the life of Grange Copeland, an abusive, irresponsible sharecropper, husband and father.

In the fall of 1972, Walker taught a course in Black Women's Writers at the University of Massachusetts Boston.[11]

In 1973, before becoming editor of Ms. Magazine, Walker and literary scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered an unmarked grave they believed to be that of Zora Neale Hurston in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Walker had it marked with a gray marker stating ZORA NEALE HURSTON / A GENIUS OF THE SOUTH / NOVELIST FOLKLORIST / ANTHROPOLOGIST / 1901–1960.[12][13] The line "a genius of the south" is from Jean Toomer's poem Georgia Dusk, which appears in his book Cane.[13] Hurston was actually born in 1891, not 1901.[14][15]

Walker's 1975 article "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston," published in Ms. Magazine, helped revive interest in the work of this African-American writer and anthropologist.[16]

In 1976, Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published. Meridian is a novel about activist workers in the South, during the civil rights movement, with events that closely parallel some of Walker's own experiences. In 1982, she published what has become her best-known work, The Color Purple. The novel follows a young, troubled black woman fighting her way through not just racist white culture but patriarchal black culture as well. The book became a bestseller and was subsequently adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg, featuring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as a 2005 Broadway musical totaling 910 performances.

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). She has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other writings. Her work is focused on the struggles of black people, particularly women, and their lives in a racist, sexist, and violent society.[17][18][19][20][21]

In 2000, Walker released a collection of short fiction, based on her own life, called The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart, exploring love and race relations. In this book, Walker details her interracial relationship with Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a civil rights attorney who was also working in Mississippi.[22] The couple married on March 17, 1967 in New York City, since interracial marriage was then illegal in the South, and divorced in 1976.[8] They had a daughter, Rebecca, together in 1969.[7] Rebecca Walker, Alice Walker's only child, is an American novelist, editor, artist, and activist. The Third Wave Foundation, an activist fund, was co-founded by Rebecca and Shannon Liss-Riordan.[23][24][25] Her godmother is Alice Walker's mentor and co-founder of Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinem.[23]

In 2007, Walker donated her papers, consisting of 122 boxes of manuscripts and archive material, to Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.[26] In addition to drafts of novels such as The Color Purple, unpublished poems and manuscripts, 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, 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 2013, Alice Walker published two new books, one of them entitled The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm's Way. The other was a book of poems entitled The World Will Follow Joy Turning Madness into Flowers (New Poems).

Activism and political criticism

Civil rights

Walker met Martin Luther King Jr. when she was a student at Spelman College in the early 1960s. She credits King for her decision to return to the American South as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. She took part in the 1963 March on Washington. Later, she volunteered to register black voters in Georgia and Mississippi.[27][28]

On March 8, 2003, International Women's Day, on the eve of the Iraq War, Walker was arrested with 26 others, including fellow authors Maxine Hong Kingston and Terry Tempest Williams, at a protest outside the White House, for crossing a police line during an anti-war rally. Walker wrote about the experience in her essay "We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For."[29]


Walker's specific brand of feminism included advocacy of women of color. In 1983, Walker coined the term "womanist" in her collection In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, to mean "a black feminist or feminist of color." The term was made to unite women of color and the feminist movement at "the intersection of race, class, and gender oppression."[30] Walker states that, "'Womanism' gives us a word of our own." [31] because it is a discourse of Black women and the issues they confront in society. Womanism as a movement came into fruition in 1985 at the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature to address Black women's concerns from their own intellectual, physical, and spiritual perspectives."[30]

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In January 2009, she was one of over 50 signatories of a letter protesting the Toronto International Film Festival's "City to City" spotlight on Israeli filmmakers, and condemning Israel as an "apartheid regime."[32]

Two months later, Walker and 60 other female activists from the anti-war group Code Pink traveled to Gaza in response to the Gaza War. Their purpose was to deliver aid, to meet with NGOs and residents, and to persuade Israel and Egypt to open their borders with Gaza. She planned to visit Gaza again in December 2009 to participate in the Gaza Freedom March.[33]

On June 23, 2011, she announced plans to participate in an aid flotilla to Gaza that attempted to break Israel's naval blockade.[34][35] Her participation in the 2011 Gaza flotilla prompted an op-ed, headlined "Alice Walker's bigotry," written by American attorney and law professor Alan Dershowitz in The Jerusalem Post. Dershowitz said, by participating in the flotilla to evade the blockade, she was "provid[ing] material support for terrorism."[36]

Walker is a judge member of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. She supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.[37] In 2012, Walker refused to authorize a Hebrew translation of her book The Color Purple, criticizing what she called Israel's "apartheid state."[38]

In May 2013, Walker posted an open letter to singer Alicia Keys, asking her to cancel a planned concert in Tel Aviv. "I believe we are mutually respectful of each other's path and work," Walker wrote. "It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists." Keys rejected the plea.[39]

Accusations of antisemitism

In May 2013, Walker expressed appreciation for the works of the conspiracy theorist David Icke.[40][41][42] On BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, she said that Icke's book Human Race Get Off Your Knees would be her choice if she could have only one book.[43] The book promotes the theory that the Earth is ruled by shapeshifting reptilian humanoids and "Rothschild Zionists." Jonathan Kay of the National Post described the book as "hateful, hallucinogenic nonsense." He wrote that Walker's public praise for Icke's book was "stunningly offensive" and that by taking it seriously, she was disqualifying herself "from the mainstream marketplace of ideas."[44]

In 2017, Walker published what Tablet described as "an explicitly anti-Semitic poem" on her blog entitled "It Is Our (Frightful) Duty To Study The Talmud", recommending that the reader should start with YouTube to learn about the shocking aspects of the Talmud.[45][46] Some lines from the poem are "Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews?" and "Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse? Are young boys fair game for rape?"[47]

In 2018, Walker was asked by an interviewer from The New York Times "What books are on your nightstand?" She listed Icke's And the Truth Shall Set You Free, a book promoting an antisemitic conspiracy theory based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.[48][49] Walker described the book as, "A curious person’s dream come true."[49][50] Walker defended her admiration for Icke and his book, saying, "I do not believe he is anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish.”[51] According to columnist Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, Walker will not allow The Color Purple to be published in Hebrew.[47]

Support for Chelsea Manning

In June 2013, Walker and others appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning, an American soldier imprisoned for releasing classified information.[52]


Walker has been a longtime sponsor of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In early 2015, she wrote: "So I think of any movement for peace and justice as something that is about stabilizing our inner spirit so that we can go on and bring into the world a vision that is much more humane than the one we have dominant today."[53]

Personal life

In 1965, Walker met Melvyn Rosenman 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 interracial couple in Mississippi.[54][55] They were harassed and threatened by whites, including the Ku Klux Klan.[56] The couple had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1969. Walker and her husband divorced in 1976.[57]

In the late 1970s, Walker moved to northern California. Walker is the co-founder of Wild Tree Press, a feminist publishing company in Anderson Valley, California. She and fellow writer Robert L. Allen founded it in 1984.[58]

In the mid-1990s, Walker was involved in a romance with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman, saying: "It was delicious and lovely and wonderful and I totally enjoyed it and I was completely in love with her but it was not anybody's business but ours."[59]

Walker's spirituality has also played a great role in her personal life, and influenced some of her best known novels, like The Color Purple.[60] Her religious views have been defined through an unoppressive womanist perspective[61] as a means to uplift black women. Walker's exploration of religion in much of her writing was greatly inspired by other writers such as Zora Neale Hurston. Some literary critics, such as Alma Freeman, have even said that Walker perceived her as a spiritual sister.[62] Walker wrote, "At one point I learned Transcendental Meditation. This was 30-something years ago. It took me back to the way that I naturally was as a child growing up way in the country, rarely seeing people. I was in that state of oneness with creation and it was as if I didn't exist except as a part of everything."[63]

In honor of her mother, Minnie Tallulah Grant, and paternal grandmother, Walker legally added "Tallulah Kate" to her name in 1994.[7] Minnie Tallulah Grant's grandmother, Tallulah, was Cherokee.[5]

Representation in other media

Beauty in Truth (2013) is a documentary film about Walker directed by Pratibha Parmar.

Awards and honors

Selected works


  1. From 1980 to 1983 there were dual hardcover and paperback awards of the National Book Award for Fiction. Walker won the award for hardcover fiction.


  1. "Alice Walker". Desert Island Discs. May 19, 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  2. "National Book Awards - 1983". National Book Foundation. Retrieved March 15, 2012. (With essays by Anna Clark and Tarayi Jones from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  3. "The 1983 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Fiction". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2019-03-25.
  4. "Document". Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  5. Bates, Gerri (2005). Alice Walker: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Press. OCLC 62321382.
  6. Moore, Geneva Cobb, and Andrew Billingsley. Maternal Metaphors of Power in African American Women's Literature: From Phillis Wheatley to Toni Morrison. University of South Carolina Press, 2017, OCLC 974947406.
  7. The Officers of the Alice Walker Literary Society. "About Alice Walker". Alice Walker Literary Society. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  8. World Authors 1995-2000, 2003. Biography Reference Bank database. Retrieved April 10, 2009.
  9. "Once (1968)". Alice Walker The Official Website for the American Novelist & Poet. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  10. "Muriel Rukeyser was 21 when he ..." Washington Post. 2001-09-16. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  11. Interview with Barbara Smith, May 7–8, 2003. p. 50. Retrieved July 19, 2017
  12. "A Headstone for an Aunt: How Alice Walker Found Zora Neale Hurston - The Urchin Movement".
  13. Deborah G. Plant (2007). Zora Neale Hurston: A Biography of the Spirit. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 57–. ISBN 978-0-275-98751-0.
  14. Boyd, Valerie (2003). Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Scribner. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-684-84230-1.
  15. Hurston, Lucy Anne (2004). Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Doubleday. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-385-49375-8.
  16. Miller, Monica (December 17, 2012). "Archaeology of a Classic". News & Events. Barnard College. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  17. "Alice Walker Booking Agent for Corporate Functions, Events, Keynote Speaking, or Celebrity Appearances". Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  18. "Alice Walker". Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  19. "Alice Walker". Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  20. Molly Lundquist. "The Color Purple - Alice Walker - Author Biography - LitLovers". Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  21. "Analyzing Characterization and Point of View in Alice Walker's Short Fiction". Archived 2013-05-14 at the Wayback Machine
  22. Campbell, Duncan (2001-02-25). "Interview: Alice Walker". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  23. Rosenbloom, Stephanie (2007-03-18). "Alice Walker - Rebecca Walker - Feminist - Feminist Movement - Children". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  24. test (2011-01-05). "Third Wave Foundation". Center for Nonprofit Excellence in Central New Mexico. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  25. "Third Wave History". Third Wave Fund. Retrieved 2019-08-02.
  26. Justice, Elaine (December 18, 2007). "Alice Walker Places Her Archive at Emory" (Press release). Emory University.
  27. Walker Interview transcript and audio file on "Inner Light in A time of darkness", Democracy Now! Retrieved February 10, 2010.
  28. "Pulitzer-Winning Writer Alice Walker & Civil Rights Leader Bob Moses Reflect on an Obama Presidency", Democracy Now! video on the African-American vote, January 20, 2009. Retrieved February 10, 2010.
  29. "Global Women Launch Campaign to End Iraq War" (Press release). CodePink: Women for Peace. January 5, 2006. Archived from the original on April 9, 2010. Retrieved February 12, 2010.
  30. Deeper shades of purple : womanism in religion and society. Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M., 1969-. New York: New York University Press. 2006. ISBN 978-0814727522. OCLC 64688636.CS1 maint: others (link)
  31. Wilma Mankiller and others, "Womanism". The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History. December 1, 1998. SIRS Issue Researcher. Indian Hills Library, Oakland, NJ. January 9, 2013, p. 1.
  32. Brown, Barry (September 5, 2009). "Toronto film festival ignites anti-Israel boycott". The Washington Times. Retrieved August 1, 2012.
  33. Gaza Freedom March Archived 2009-09-03 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved February 2010.
  34. Harman, Danna (June 23, 2011). "Author Alice Walker to take part in Gaza flotilla, despite U.S. warning". Haaretz. Tel Aviv. Retrieved August 1, 2012.
  35. Urquhart, Conal (June 26, 2011). "Israel accused of trying to intimidate Gaza flotilla journalists". The Guardian. London.
  36. Alan M. Dershowitz (June 21, 2012). "Alice Walker's bigotry". Jerusalem Post.
  37. "Tiberias" (May 11, 2013). "Palestinians in Israel: Boycotting the boycotters". The Economist. London.
  38. "Alice Walker says no to Hebrew 'Purple'". Times of Israel. June 19, 2012.
  39. David Itzkoff (May 31, 2013). "Despite Protests, Alicia Keys Says She Will Perform in Tel Aviv". The New York Times.
  40. Walker, Alice (December 2012). "Commentary: David Icke and Malcolm X". Alice Walker's Garden.
  41. O'Brien, Liam (May 19, 2013). "Prize-winning author Alice Walker gives support to David Icke on Desert Island Discs". The Independent on Sunday. London.
  42. Walker, Alice (July 2013). "David Icke: The People's Voice". Alice Walker's Garden.
  43. "Desert Island Discs: Alice Walker". BBC Radio 4. May 19, 2013.
  44. Jonathan Kay (June 7, 2013). "Where Israel hatred meets space lizards". National Post. Archived from the original on November 30, 2013.
  45. Rosenberg, Yair. "'The New York Times' Just Published an Unqualified Recommendation for an Insanely Anti-Semitic Book". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  46. Walker, Alice. "It Is Our (Frightful) Duty". Alice Walker: The Official Website. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  47. Cohen, Richard (December 24, 2018) "Anti-Semitism is not just another opinion. The New York Times should know better." The Washington Post
  48. Alice Walker under fire for praise of 'antisemitic' David Icke book, Guardian, Luke O'Neil, 17 December 2018, quote: "Ideas in the book in question and much of his other work revolve around concepts expressed in the fraudulent antisemitic propaganda text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
  49. Rosenberg, Yair (17 December 2018). "'The New York Times' Just Published an Unqualified Recommendation for an Insanely Anti-Semitic Book The book, recommended by author Alice Walker, repeatedly cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, dubs the Talmud "among the most appallingly racist documents on the planet," and says Jews funded the Holocaust and control the KKK". Tablet. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  50. Hoyles, Ben; Moore, Matthew (22 December 2018). "Yikes! David Icke on march again after Pulitzer writer Alice Walker's praise". The Times. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  51. "Alice Walker Defends Endorsement of anti-Semitic Book". Haaretz. JTA. 22 December 2018. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  52. Gavin, Patrick (June 19, 2013). "Celeb video: 'I am Bradley Manning'". Politico.
  53. Harrison, Mary Hanson (20 January 2015). "From the President's Corner". WILPF. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  54. Driscoll, Margarette (May 4, 2008). "The day feminist icon Alice Walker resigned as my mother". The Times. London. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008.
  55. "Inner Light in a Time of Darkness: A Conversation with Author and Poet Alice Walker". Democracy Now!. November 17, 2006. Archived from the original on June 13, 2007. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
  56. Parsons, Elaine (2015). Ku-Klux : The Birth of the Klan During Reconstruction. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
  57. Krum, Sharon (May 26, 2007). "Can I survive having a baby? Will I lose myself ...?". The Guardian. London.
  58. "Black Book Publishers in the United States". The African American Experience. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03.
  59. Wajid, Sara (December 15, 2006). "No retreat". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  60. Lackey, Charlie (Spring 2002). "Soul Talk: The New Spirituality of African American Women". MultiCultural Review. 11: 86 via Women's Studies International.
  61. Maïnimo, Wirba (Spring 2002). "Black Female Writers' Perspective on Religion: Alice Walker and Calixthe Beyala". Journal of Third World Studies. 19: 117–136 via Literature Resource Center.
  62. Freeman, Alma (Spring 1985). "Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker: A Spiritual Kinship". Sage. 103: 37–40 via Literature Resource Center.
  63. Reed, Wendy; Horne, Jennifer (2012). Circling Faith: Southern women on spirituality. University of Alabama Press. p. 185. ISBN 9780817317676.
  64. "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 3". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
  65. "Fiction". Past winners and finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  66. "Alice Walker (b. 1944)". New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Further reading

  • White, Evelyn C. (2005). Alice Walker: A Life. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-32826-4.
  • Walker, Alice; Parmar, Pratibha (1993). Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women. Diane Books Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-7881-5581-9.
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