Alice Malsenior Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an African-American author and feminist who received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 for The Color Purple.
Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, United States; as well as being African American, her family has Cherokee, Scottish and Irish lineage. After high school, Walker attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated in 1965 from Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers (Bronxville postal zone), New York. During her junior year, she spent a summer as an exchange student in Uganda.
She was married to activist Mel Leventhal from 1967 to 1976; the couple had one daughter, Rebecca Walker (also a prominent activist and writer).
Walker's writings include novels, stories, essays and poems.
Topically, they focus on the struggles of African Americans, particularly women, and they witness against societies that are racist, sexist, and violent. Her writings also focus on the role of women of color in culture and history. Walker is a respected figure in the liberal political community for her support of unconventional and unpopular views as a matter of principle. She is an open bisexual, and sympathetic of people of all sexualities, ethnicities, and races. Her first book of poetry was written while she was still a senior at Sarah Lawrence. She took a brief sabbatical from writing when she in Mississippi and worked in the U.S. civil rights movement.
Walker resumed her writing career when she joined Ms. Magazine. An article she published in 1975 was largely responsible for the renewal of interest in the work of Zora Neale Hurston. (In 1973, Walker and fellow Hurston scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered Hurston's unmarked grave in Ft. Pierce, FL. Both women paid for a modest headstone for the grave site.)
In addition to her collected short stories and poetry, Walker's first work of fiction, The Third Life Of Grange Copeland, was published in 1970. In 1976, Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published. The novel dealt with activist workers in the South during the civil rights movement, and closely paralleled some of Walker's own experiences
In 1982, Walker would publish what has become her best-known work, the novel The Color Purple. The story of a young black woman fighting her way through not only racist white culture but patriarchal black culture was a resounding commercial success, and the immediacy of the characters and the story struck a nerve in readers, regardless of race, age, or gender. The book became a best seller, and was subsequently made into a 1985 movie as well as a 2005 Broadway musical play.
Walker wrote several other novels, including The Temple Of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret Of Joy (which featured, among other protagonists, characters or descendants of characters from The Color Purple) and has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other published work.
Walker became a political activist, in part due to the influence of activist Howard Zinn, who was one of her professors at Spelman College. She spent several years in the 1960s working specifically as a civil rights activist, and continues to be an advocate for civil rights for all people.
She is active in environmental, feminist, and animal rights causes, and has campaigned against female genital mutilation.
She is also an advocate for the country of Cuba, and has spoken openly about ending the decades-long embargo against Cuba. Walker has visited Cuba on several occasions.
The Color Purple won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 as well as the American Book Award.
Walker also won the 1986 O. Henry Award for her short story "Kindred Spirits", published in Esquire magazine in August of 1985.
She has received several awards for her stark portrayal of racism in her novels.
She has also received a number of other awards for her body of work, including:
* The Lillian Smith Award from the National Endowment for the Arts
* The Rosenthal Award from the National Institute of Arts & Letters
* The Radcliffe Institute Fellowship, the Merrill Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship
* The Front Page Award for Best Magazine Criticism from the Newswoman's Club of New York
Existing criticism of Walker's work has centered largely on the depiction of African American men, in particular relating to the novel The Color Purple. When The Color Purple was published, there was some criticism of the portrayal of male characters in the book. The main concern of much of the criticism was that the book appeared to depict the male characters as either mean and abusive (Albert/"Mister") or as buffoons (Harpo). This criticism intensified when the film was released, as the narrative of the film cut a significant portion of the eventual resolution and reconciliation between Albert and Celie.
In the updated 1995 introduction to his novel Oxherding Tale, Charles Johnson criticized the book by saying, "I leave it to readers to decide which book pushes harder at the boundaries of convention, and inhabits most confidently the space where fiction and philosophy meet." The shock waves of his comments were felt in academia, where Johnson broke an unspoken taboo against criticizing another writer of color.
Walker addressed some of these criticisms in The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult 1996. "The Same River Twice" was an autobiography of sorts, discussing specific events in Walker's life, as well as the perspective of experiencing reaction to "The Color Purple" twice, Once as a book and then as the movie was made.