Alice Walker’s Life and Books

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Alice, Malsenior Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, on February 9th, in the year 1944. With a mother who worked as a maid, and a father who was a sharecropper, she lived a poor life growing up. She was also the youngest daughter of her mother's eight children. At a young age, Walker was shot in her right eye with a bb-pellet during a day of play with her older brothers. Due to this incident, her eye was left physically scared, causing her to feel self-conscious of her appearance. It was in these moments of her struggle of confidence, that she found comfort in reading books and writing. Walker was very smart, graduating from high school as class valedictorian. Considering her poor upbringing along with her strengths in her education, she received a scholarship to attend Spelman College.

At some point in her college career, she switched to Sarah Lawrence College. Following her college years, she worked as a teacher and a social worker, and throughout life published many novels, poems, and essays, which all tackle important concepts, some of which focus on gender, race, and politics. Walker also talked these concepts head on, becoming an activist in the civil rights movement, fighting for people just like herself. In 1967, she married a Jewish lawyer named Melvyn Leventhal, making them the first legally married interracial couple to live in Mississippi.

Walkers Writings

Walkers desires of comfort that she found in reading and writing, proved to be more significant in her life than she may have imagined at a young age. Walker became a very influential author and poet, taking difficult and relevant topics and issues, and tackling them in her works. Not only did she write novels and poems, she also wrote a number of short stories and essays, as well as books for children. Walker is most famous for her novel, The Color Purple, which focuses on the experiences and struggles of an African American female (character name: Celie) going through life. This novel was her third novel, and because of its success, it was her career's first moment of growth which made her into the successful author she is today. The novel tackles many of these difficult topics mentioned (incest, religion, racism, poverty, lesbianism, domestic violence, motherhood); of course, with difficult topics, came controversy, which Walker received a lot of, following this novels' publication.

African American men, particularly felt victimized and targeted by the novel and its ill portrayal of them, feeling as if it reinforced “animalistic” and “cruel” stereotypes about African American masculinity. Though Walker was still strong on what she put in the novel, and it is still deeply appreciated today. Despite her climb to fame from her writings, she also has dedicated plenty of time promoting and helping other African American female writers, which makes her truly admirable. Then, in her most famous collection of essays, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose, where she coined the concept of “womanism”, which is a significant concept in relation to women’s gender studies.

Walker’s Activism

Along with her recognition for her writings, Walker was also well known for her work as an activist. During her enrollment at Spelman College in the early 1960s, Walker met Martin Luther King. Jr. It was this meeting, that Walker gives credit to him, for her participation as an activist. Walker became an activist in the civil rights movement, fighting alongside others like herself, who wanted equality for African Americans. Walker aided in registering African-Americans to vote in Mississippi and created campaigns which promoted the need for welfare rights and more programs for children. Walker was also strongly active in the fight for Women’s equality as well. In 2003, on International Women’s Day, Walker crossed a police line during an anti-war protest outside of the White House, and was arrested alongside 2 other authors and 24 other individuals. Walker also spent some time apart of the Women for Women International group during her younger years of life, writing about her experience in Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel, which was published in the year 2010.

Walker’s Womanism

Womanism, or the term "womanist", was coined by Walker in 1983. It was in her most famous collection of essays, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose, where the idea of womanism was first initiated. In this collection of essays, she identifies herself as a “womanist”, which can allow people to understand her as a “black feminist/feminist of color”, “a woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non-sexually”, and who loves “women’s culture, music, dance, the spirit, and herself”. Walkers concept of womanism did a lot of important things for history during that time. It not only corrected the exclusion of women of color under the term “feminism”, but it also aided in the expansion of the women’s movement as well, allowing women of color to be thought of, as well as white women. It faced the issue of race oppression, considering gender oppression was not the only type of oppression affecting society at the time.

It created a “conception of blackness and woman-ness that feminist theory had been unable to represent”. Womanism stuck up for people just like Walker herself, allowing more opportunities for people, since Walker helped to fight for new gained equality. Walker & WGS2000 Alice Walker faced many obstacles to achieve the success that she has obtained today. Not only did she grow up poor, making it a harder task to get her talents acknowledged, she also is a Woman and an African American. Poor, black, and being a woman, were three identity traits that made living harder than it ever needed to be. In the textbook Women’s Voices Feminist Visions, by Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee, chapter 2, “Systems of Privilege and Inequality”, discusses the struggles people like Walker faced, due to her identity, in many ways. An article following this chapter that I found important in understanding these struggles Walker endured, is “Toward a New Vision” by Patricia Hill Collins (Shaw & Lee 72). Collins says that “racial/ethnic groups, women, and the poor have never had the luxury of being voyeurs of the lives of the privileged” (77).

Walker was a poor, black, woman who was only able to attend college on scholarship. If it weren’t for the scholarship money, which many people were not as lucky to get during her time growing up, she would have never been able to receive an education. Yet, it was her successful attempts to surpass the struggles of her oppression that allowed her to be the successful woman that she is today. Walker also faced the difficulties of meeting societal beauty standards. Women of color were seen as “unattractive” compared to fair skinned women. Women like Walker did not fit the standards of beauty that still sadly exist in our society today; thin, large breasted, young, blond hair, blue eyes, pale skin, are just a few traits that fulfill the “beauty ideal” (Shaw & Lee 188).

Walker already lacked these traits, but she also struggled even more with her self confidence when her brother shot her in the eye with a bb gun, scaring it for most of her childhood. Though now, as an adult, her scarring is fixed, and so is her self-confidence with blackness. These “beauty norms are internalized, and we receive various positive and negatives responses for complying with or resisting them. This is especially true when it comes to hair” (Shaw & Lee 193), which Walker constantly shows off her natural African American hair which still is not completely accepted in societal standards of beauty—go her! Walker also played a huge role in her inspiring openness about sexuality, both in her writing, and in herself. Walker, although making a marker in history being a part of the first legal interracial marriage in Mississippi, also has admitted to dating both men and women throughout her life. She defines her sexuality as “curious”, which is a sexual identity term that people still judge today.

In her novel, The Color Purple, she writes of homosexual relationships, which was something few writers openly did during her time, and was one of the reasons her novel was both praised and controversial. Individuals sexual identities are shaped by the economic, social, and cultural aspects of globalization, “by constraining people’s sexual expressions and practices and normalizing particular sexual identities” (Shaw & Lee 319). Walker did not let these factors shape her true sexuality, even as a woman with many traits that put her at a disadvantage, she accepted her sexuality as another trait to add on to the list she’d continue to embrace.

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Alice Walker's Life and Books. (2021, Mar 17). Retrieved May 20, 2024 , from

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