Alice Malsenior Walker was born on February 9, 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia, the eighth and youngest child of Minnie Tallulah Grant Walker
and Willie Lee Walker. Her parents were poor sharecroppers but wealthy of spirit and love.
Her father's great-great-great grandmother Mary Poole was a slave forced to walk from Virginia to Georgia with a baby in each arm. Her mother's grandmother Talluhah was mostly Cherokee Indian. Alice is deeply proud of her cultural inheritances.
In the summer of 1952 while playing "cowboys and indians"
with her brothers (Alice was the Indian with bow and arrow in hand), she was blinded in her right eye by a BB gun pellet. Alice was self-conscious of the large white scar tissue left in her eye. When she was 14 years old her brother Bill had the "cataract" removed for Alice by a doctor in Boston, but her vision never returned.
After graduating high school in 1961 (she was her school's valedictorian and prom queen that year),
Alice left home to attend Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia on scholarship. Before leaving, Alice's mother gave her three special gifts: a sewing machine for self-sufficiency, a suitcase for independence and
a typewriter for creativity.
While at Spelman, Alice participated in civil rights demonstrations. She was invited to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s home in 1962 at the end of her freshman year in recognition of her invitation to attend the Youth World Peace Festival in Helsinki, Finland.
After attending the conference, Alice traveled Europe for the summer. This began her love for travel and encountering the many peoples and cultures of the world.
In August 1963 Alice traveled to Washington D.C. to take part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Perched in a tree limb to try to get a view, Alice couldn't see much of the main podium, but was able to listen to
Dr. King's I Have A Dream address. (watch video)
Upon returning to Spelman for her junior year, Alice learned she had received a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Although not wanting to leave the civil rights movement, Alice's teachers at Spelman encouraged her to attend Sarah Lawrence where she'd be one of a handful of African-Americans at the prestigious university. Alice accepted this challenge.
At Sarah Lawrence, Alice enjoyed the mentoring of poet Muriel Rukeyser and writer Jane Cooper who nurtured her interest and talent in writing.
After her junior year at Sarah Lawrence, Alice had another opportunity to travel: this time to Africa and Europe. Her world traveling broadened her mind and happiness. Yet, all this turned to despair when back at university for her senior year Alice realized she was pregnant. Frightened and not knowing how to tell her parents,
Alice considered committing suicide and even slept with a razor blade under her pillow for several weeks. She also wrote volumes of poetry, trying to come to terms with her feelings and worst fears.
With the help of a classmate, Alice was able to have a safe abortion.
During her recovery from the depression and anxiety she had suffered, Alice wrote a short story aptly titled "To Hell With Dying." Her mentor Muriel Ruykeyser sent the story to publishers as well as to the African-American poet Langston Hughes. To Alice's delight, the story was published and she received a hand-written note of encouragement from Hughes. Alice was just 21 years old.
Graduating from Sarah Lawrence in 1965, Alice returned to Georgia where she once again participated in the civil rights movement by doing door-to-door voter registration among the rural poor. In the fall of 1965, Alice moved to New York City where she worked in the city's welfare department. She also won a writing fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference.
But the struggle in the South beckoned her back, where in the summer of 1966 she again registered voters door-to-door in Mississippi. She also met a young Jewish law student named Mel Leventhal. Alice fell in love with the passionate Leventhal who would take civil rights cases into the courts. She returned to New York city with him where he was attending law school.
Leventhal encouraged Alice's writing. While pondering a first novel, Alice wrote an essay titled,
"The Civil Rights Movement: What Good Was It?", (excerpt) which became her first published article and won her first place in the American Scholar magazine annual essay contest. Encouraged and wanting to find solitude to work on the novel, Alice applied for and won a writing fellowship at the prestigious MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire.
While still working on her first novel, Alice and Leventhal wed and moved back to Mississippi where he could pursue civil rights litigation. Despite threats of physical violence due to their inter-racial marriage, Leventhal worked on many cases for the NAACP and Alice worked as a black history teacher for the local Head Start program. Alice was also delighted to find out she was pregnant as this would save Leventhal from the Vietnam draft .
This happiness soon faded as Alice heard word that her hero Dr. King had been slain. Alice attended King's funeral services in Atlanta. Upon returning to Mississippi, she found it hard to contain her grieving. In deep mourning, she lost her unborn child.
Alice continued her writing, accepted a teaching position at Jackson State University and published her first volume of poetry, "". Walker again became pregnant and finished her first novel, "The Third Life of Grange Copeland
", the same week her daughter Rebecca Grant was born.
Alice's novel received literary praise but also criticism. The story involves the murder of a woman by her husband. Many African-American critics said she dealt too harshly with the black male characters in her book. Alice rebutted such claims, saying that women are all too often abused by men they love.
Next Alice took a writer-in-residence position at Tougaloo College. She received a fellowship from Radcliffe Institute . Then in 1972 she accepted a teaching position at Wellesley College .
At Wellesley Alice began one of the first women's studies courses in the nation,
a women's literature course. She also wanted to introduce her students to African-American women writers. In her search for
material, she found Zora Neale Hurston , a much forgotten Harlem Renaissance writer. Alice was passionate in her discovery of Hurston. She would later edit an anthology of Hurston's work, "I Love Myself When I Am Laughing... And Then Again: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader
", and place a memorial on Zora's unmarked grave in Florida.
Seemingly inspired by this new heroine, Alice wrote fervently. In 1973 she published her first collection of short stories, "In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women
" and her second volume of poetry "Revolutionary Petunias
She won numerous awards for her stories. She also edited a book about another writing hero, Langston Hughes. Next Alice became an editor for Ms. Magazine. She worked on her poetry and prose daily. In 1976 she published her second novel, "Meridian
".. drawing on her own experiences, the book chronicled the struggles of a fictional young black woman, Meridian, during the civil rights movement, at the cost of her own health and happiness.
Alice had much personal experience to draw from. At the same time, her marriage to Leventhal ended.
"" received much acclaim and Alice accepted a Guggeheim Fellowship to concentrate full-time on her writing. She left "Ms." and moved to San Francisco where she still maintains a residence today (Ed: circa 2000).
In California, Alice fell in love with Robert Allen , editor of Black Scholar.
They moved to a country home in Mendocino. There Alice's writing proliferated! She published her second book of short stories, "You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down
", wherein "the emotions and ideas conveyed are far more important and poignant then the stories themselves". In 1982 she finished The Color Purple.
The Color Purple went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award and escalated Alice to world-wide fame. Alice endured a backlash of criticism from the African-American writer's community that she again portrayed black men too harshly. Alice was shocked and dismayed by such criticism.
Perhaps in explanation, she published "In Search of Our Mother's Garden" in 1983 which contained many essays on her "womanist" ideology. (excerpt)
Alice took a very active role in the making of "The Color Purple" into a motion picture, produced by Quincy Jones and directed by Steven Spielberg.
She did not, however, write the screenplay. She was able to voice opinions on various parts of the story and casting. She was both delighted and disappointed in the screen rendering of her story. Her beloved characters were not her own on screen, but she did admire the powerful performances by the actors.
When the movie, "The Color Purple", was premiered in her hometown of Eatonton, Alice received a (s)hero's welcome and parade in her honor. Her sister Ruth began The Color Purple Foundation which does charitable work for education.
In 1984 Alice published her third volume of poetry, "Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful
". She followed this in 1988 with her second book of essays,
"Living by the Word
". In 1989 she published her epic novel "The Temple of My Familiar
Alice next published another volume of poetry, "Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems 1965-1990 Complete
In 1991 she published a children's story, "Finding the Green Stone
". This was soon followed by her fifth novel, "Possessing the Secret of Joy
which chronicles the psychic trauma of one woman's life after forced genital mutilation. Her interest in ending genital mutilation took her on a journey to Africa with filmmaker Pratibha Parmar, founder of Kali Films, to make a documentary called Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women
. She also wrote a companion book, "Warrior Marks
", chronicling her experiences.
In 1996 Alice published "The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult
" in which she describes through essays and
journal entries the loss of her beloved mother, the break-up of her 13-year relationship with Robert Allen, her own battle with lyme disease and depression, and her awakening sense of bi-sexuality.
The book also contains Alice's own version of the screenplay to "The Color Purple" and many of her notes and remembrances from the making of her novel into film.
The next year Alice published another non-fiction title, "Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism
", with more essays inspired by her ever-expanding political activism. From the civil rights movement to the anti-nuclear movement, the environmental movement, the women's movement
(she continues as a contributing editor to Ms. Magazine), and most recently the movement to protect indigenous people, their cultures and natural environments, Alice remains an outspoken activist on issues of oppression and power; championing the victims of racism, sexism and military-industrialism and seeking to preserve our natural heritages.
In September 1998, Alice published "By the Light of My Father's Smile
". Her first novel in six years, the book examines the connections between sexuality and spirituality. The multi-narrated story of several generations explores the relationships of fathers and daughters. As in previous fiction, Alice weaves back and forth through time and individual perspectives, her characters seeking redemption, forgiveness and peace. The book contains sexually explicit imagery and erotica and may not be appropriate for younger readers.
Alice is a vegetarian, gardener, world traveller and spiritual explorer. She lives in Mendocino, California (Ed: written circa 2000)
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Also see Anniina Jokinen's Alice Walker page
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Note from editor: I starting sprucing up this and nearby pages after registering to see Alice at a meditation retreat in Oakland in April, 2007. I hadn't maintained this ipoet site since 2001 when I started keeping a webpage for Dennis Bernstein at KPFA's Flashpoints.net **the list of "Favorite Links" is my touch, untouched, thank you current webmaster, but the links need updating. A lot of the iPoet links were/still are becoming dead from age and neglect and I when transferred servers a couple times navigation got messed up, so I fixed mostly just a few of those things here and there in a hurry. That's all I'm gonna say about that, born to hold a cat. I think most all this poetry site was written in around 2000 about the time that the Albany Bulb was being bulldozed (and the usual local progressive news people were being distracted by their own near bulldozing) - that was my first homegrown activism, being an online advocate and journalist/ photographer (see People Are Trees Too) and meeting homeless poets on the bulb. I am most proud of writing a heartfelt piece that ended up on the cover of an issue of Street Spirit magazine. I am most not proud of not using the occasion of attending the 1999 Rainbow Family summer gathering to call for a general occupation of the bulb by The Rainbow Family and the Grateful Dead crowd and other such takeover artists as were in attendance. It could have been something.
Note: the following four links and references have disappeared from the internet over the years since this page was first posted on iPoet.com in 2000, but thanks to archive.org and their "Wayback Machine" here they are again in living color:
Original biography text above courtesy the Alice Walker-Womanist Writer website by Melinda Jackson
(circa 2000). used with permission.
Thank you so very much, Melinda! Keep up the good work!
Another interesting resource, Writing and Resistance
Also check out this page from megasite: Sistahspace
**hyperlinks by iPoet.com