Alice Walker

(b. 1944)

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Alice Walker (b. 1944) is an American writer, poet, and activist known for her insightful portrayal of African American life and culture. Her 1982 novel The Color Purple was the subject of a major motion picture and Broadway musical.

Born in Eatonton, Georgia, the daughter of sharecroppers, Walker was injured in a childhood accident that blinded her in one eye. Her mother felt Walker would be better suited for writing than doing chores. Her writing and academic prowess afforded her a scholarship to Spelman College, where she studied for two years before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College, where she graduated in 1965.

After graduation, Waker moved to Mississippi to become involved in the Civil Rights Movement. She began teaching and writing poetry, short stories, and essays. In 1967, Walker married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer and the couple became the first legally married interracial couple in Mississippi. The couple had a daughter before divorcing in 1976.

Walker published her first book of poetry, Once (1968) and first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970) to much acclaim. In 1973, Walker alongside scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered the unmarked grave of Zora Neale Hurston in Ft. Pierce, Florida, and had it marked. In 1975, when Walker became the editor of Ms. Magazine, she published the article, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” which renewed interest for Hurston and her works.

Color photograph of Alice Walker leaning against a wooden bin on the porch of a house.

Alice Walker, Author, Northern Calif., 1989.

Photograph by Anthony Barboza. 

2014.157.1

Gift of Anthony Barboza, © Anthony Barboza

In the late 1970s, Walker moved to Northern California, where she wrote her most popular novel, The Color Purple in 1982. The book, which explores themes of gender and sexuality and features a lesbian relationship, won a Pulitzer Prize. It was adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg in 1985 starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey would later produce a musical version of the book with Quincy Jones in 2004.

Walker continues to publish essays, short stories, and poems including a memoir, The Chicken Chronicles, in 2011. In the mid-1990s, Walker had a relationship with the singer Tracy Chapman, but prefers not to label her own sexuality.

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