Alice Walker (b. 1944), one of the United States’ preeminent writers, is an award-winning author of novels, stories, essays, and poetry. In 1983, Walker became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her novel The Color Purple, which also won the National Book Award. Her other books include The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, The Temple of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. In her public life, Walker has worked to address problems of injustice, inequality, and poverty as an activist, teacher, and public intellectual.
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Alice Walker (b. 1944), one of the United States’ preeminent writers, is an award-winning author of novels, stories, essays, and poetry. Walker was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, which she won in 1983 for her novel The Color Purple, also a National Book Award winner. Walker has also contributed to American culture as an activist, teacher, and public intellectual. In both her writing and her public life, Walker has worked to address problems of injustice, inequality, and poverty.
Walker was born at home in Putnam County, Georgia, on February 9, 1944, the eighth child of Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Tallulah Grant Walker. Willie Lee and Minnie Lou labored as tenant farmers, and Minnie Lou supplemented the family income as a house cleaner. Though poor, Walker’s parents raised her to appreciate art, nature, and beauty. They also taught her to value her education, encouraging her to focus on her studies. When she was a young girl, Alice’s brother accidentally shot her in the eye with a BB, leaving a large scar and causing her to withdraw into the world of art and books. Walker’s dedication to learning led her to graduate from her high school as valedictorian. She was also homecoming queen.
Walker began attending Spelman College in Atlanta in 1961. There she formed bonds with professors such as Staughton Lynd and Howard Zinn, teachers that would inspire her to pursue her talent for writing and her commitment to social justice. In 1964 she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College, where she completed a collection of poems in her senior year. This collection would later become her first published book, Once (1965). After college, Walker became deeply engaged with the civil rights movement, often joining marches and voter registration drives in the South. In 1965 she met Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a civil rights lawyer, whom she would marry in 1967 in New York. The two were happy, before the strain of being an interracial couple in Mississippi caused them to separate in 1976. They had one child, Rebecca Grant Walker Leventhal.
In the late sixties through the seventies, Walker produced several books, including her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), and her first story collection, In Love & Trouble (1973). During this time she also pursued a number of other ambitions, such as working as an editor for Ms. magazine, assisting anti-poverty campaigns, and helping to bring canonical novelist Zora Neale Hurston back into the public eye.
With the 1982 release of her third novel, The Color Purple, Walker earned a reputation as one of America’s premier authors. The book would go on to sell fifteen million copies and be adapted into an Academy Award–nominated film by director Steven Spielberg. After the publication of The Color Purple, Walker had a tremendously prolific decade. She produced a number of acclaimed novels, including You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down (1982), The Temple of My Familiar (1989), and Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992), as well as the poetry collections Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1985) and Her Blue Body Everything We Know (1991). During this time Walker also began to distinguish herself as an essayist and nonfiction writer with collections on race, feminism, and culture, including In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1983) and Living by the Word (1988). Another collection of poetry, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing, was released in 2010, followed by her memoir, The Chicken Chronicles, in the spring of 2011.
Currently, Walker lives in Northern California, and spends much of her time traveling, teaching, and working for human rights and civil liberties in the United States and abroad. She continues to write and publish along with her many other activities.