This week in women’s history: Alice Walker
By Jack Taylor
“If you deny people their own voice, you’ll have no idea of who they were.”
That quote speaks volumes to the message Alice Walker embodies in her work.
Known for dynamic and raw depictions of black women in America, Walker, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Color Purple,” stands as a testament to the power of literary fiction and the ability to rise above life’s hardships.
Born on February 4, 1944, in Putnam County, Georgia, Walker was the eighth child of sharecroppers.
Evelyn C. White, a reporter known for writing about African-American women’s issues, wrote about Walker’s life in her book “Alice Walker: A Life.”
A significant moment in Walker’s life occurred when she was a child, White said.
Walker’s siblings Curtis and Bobby were playing with her in their yard when one of them shot Walker in the eye with their BB gun, White wrote. This traumatic moment, caused Walker to become self-conscious and turn to reading and poetry, which later influenced her work.
Following the gunshot, Walker’s parents were unable to afford to fix her eye at the cost of $250. Due to not having immediate surgery, Walker became blind in one eye. As a way to help her pass time, her mother gave her a typewriter, which gave Walker the tools she needed to begin her writing career.
After attending Spelman College through a scholarship, Walker transferred to Sarah Lawrence College and graduated in 1965, the same year her first short story got published. Soon after, Walker moved to Mississippi and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
Walker had expected that she would be working in Jackson registering votes as she had done in the past. However, she was assigned to nearby Greenwood to take depositions from African-Americans who had been evicted from their homes due to attempting to register to vote White wrote.
After working in the South, Walker moved to California in the late 1970s, where she began to write her most popular novel “The Color Purple.”
Released in 1982, “The Color Purple” details the life of a young African American woman growing up in rural Georgia in the 1930s.
Faced with numerous struggles including an abusive relationship, the main character, Celie, discovers her sexuality through her relationship with another woman and gains her independence through her self-discovery.
Winning multiple awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award, “The Color Purple” continues to be one of the most challenged books in schools and public libraries in recent history due to its realistic portrayal of abuse. Many schools also ban the book because of its depiction of a same-sex relationship, according to the American Library Association.
However, Walker has continued to write and has released numerous poetry books and short stories. She has gone on to become one of the most prolific authors of her time.
Despite having a legacy of prolific literature, Walker also has a background shrouded in controversy over her activism.
In Clenora Hudson-Weems book, “Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves,” Hudson-Weems details Walkers intentions with Womanism. Weems is a popular African-American author and professor who is best known for debating the ideals of black feminism.
Weems discussed how Walker believes a Womanist is a black feminist who loves other women and men and values women’s culture.
“Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female, Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender,” Weems writes.
Walker remains a legendary force in the literary community, writing other novels such as “Meridan” in 1976 and “Possessing the Secret of Joy” in 1992.
Walker’s work and legacy of creating literary content that sparks conversation is perhaps best summed up through one of her lines from “The Color Purple” itself.
“The more I wonder, the more I love.”