Alice Walker

African-American Novelist, Poet, and Activist

Alice Walker is an African-American woman most famous for her Pulitzer Prize award-winning novel, ‘The Color Purple.’ She is a famous writer and activist who uses her writing to advocate for gender equality and stand against racism, oppression, and social injustice.

Life Facts

  • Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia.
  • She comes from a large family of eight children, and she is the last child.
  • Alice Walker has Cherokee ancestry. Her paternal great-grandmother was a Cherokee woman whose name was Tallulah.
  • She got her primary education at East Putnam Consolidated, secondary education at Butler Baker High School, and tertiary education at Spelman College Georgia, before switching to Sarah Lawrence College, New York.

Interesting Facts

  • Alice Walker is blind in one eye as a result of an accident that happened when she was eight years old.
  • She was the valedictorian at her High School.
  • She is the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
  • She and her ex-husband Melvyn Leventhal were the first legally married interracial couple in Jackson, Mississippi.
  • In 2013, a documentary film about Alice Walker was released. It was directed by Pratibha Parmar and titled ‘Beauty in Truth.’
  • The American Humanist Association named Alice Walker the 1997 Humanist of the Year.
  • In 2001, Alice Walker was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.
  • In 2006, she was inducted into the California Hall of Fame at the California Museum for History, Women, and Arts.
  • She was among the people privileged to listen to Martin Luther King Junior’s popular “I Have a Dream” speech in person.
  • She is passionate about flowers and gardening and names her official website

Early Life and Education

Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker was born on February 4, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia, to Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Tallulah Grant, sharecroppers in rural Georgia. She is the youngest of her parents’ eight children. She started school at age four at East Putnam Consolidated. At the age of eight, she was blinded in her right eye while playing with her brothers, which caused her to seek solitude and find more interest in books. Then as she grew up, her high school choices were limited, as not every school was open to black students at the time. And so Alice Walker attended Butler Baker High School, which was the only high school available to black students in Eatonton, Georgia. She graduated as her high school valedictorian and was offered a full scholarship by the state of Georgia for high academic performance. With the scholarship, she enrolled at Spelman College, Georgia, in 1961. After two years at Spelman College, Walker was offered another scholarship and switched to Sarah Lawrence College, New York. She also studied in East Africa as an exchange student before she graduated in 1965.

Personal Life and Career

Alice Walker recounts being depressed and suicidal following an abortion she had in her senior year in College. It was an experience that inspired her to write poetry, many of which were contained in her first published collection of Poetry titled ‘Once.’

Upon graduation from College, Alice Walker worked at the New York City Department of Welfare before returning to the South.

She moved to Mississippi, where she started to work at the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, located in Jackson, Mississippi.

In 1967, Alice Walker married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a Jewish Civil Rights attorney. The couple had to travel to New York to get married, as interracial marriage was illegal in the South at the time. The couple then became the first legally married interracial couple in Jackson, Mississippi.

Alice Walker and Melvyn Leventhal had a daughter named Rebecca in 1969. Rebecca is Alice Walker’s only child. Rebecca Walker is currently a well-known feminist and activist. The mother and daughter were in a feud that was made public for years, with Rebecca accusing Alice Walker of being a negligent mother to her, but they both have reconciled with each other.

Alice Walker and Melvyn Leventhal divorced amicably in 1976, and Walker has remained unmarried since then. Walker has revealed that after her marriage, she had been involved in a romantic relationship with American singer Tracy Chapman, but Chapman, who is very private about her love life, has failed to confirm or deny the claim.

Literary Influences

One notable writer whom Alice Walker acknowledges as a literary influence is an African-American novelist and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston. In 1973, Alce Walker and Charlotte D. Hunt discovered an unmarked grave in Fi Pierce, Florida, which they believed to be the grave of Zora Neale Hurston. Alice Walker had the grave marked with a gray marker written: ”Zora Neale Hurston. Novelist. Folklorist. Anthropologist. 1901-1960″. But Hurston was born in 1891 and not 1901.

Later in 1975, Alice Walker published an article about  Zora Neale Hurston in Ms. Magazine titled “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston.” Alice Walker’s actions have helped revive interest in Zora Neale Hurston’s works, like Hurston’s 1937 novel ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’

Literary Career

Walker’s first venture into writing was through poetry. Her professors played a role in encouraging her career as a writer. As an exchange student in East Africa, she would write poems and slip them under the office door of her professor Muriel Rukeyser. Rukeyser showed the poems to her agent, and in 1968, the poems were published in a collection of poems titled ‘Once.’ One of her professors was also the one that helped her get her first fiction short story published in 1968.

Alice Walker became a writer-in-residence at Jackson State University from 1968 to 1969, then at Tougaloo College from 1970 to 1971. While a resident at Tougaloo College, she published her first novel titled ‘The Third Life of Grange Copeland’ in 1970.

In 1973, Alice Walker became editor of Ms. Magazine.

Alice Walker has published over seventeen novels and short story collections, thirteen non-fiction works, and numerous poems and essays. Her most famous work is the 1982 novel ‘The Color Purple which made her the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction which she won in 1983 and also earned her the National Book Award for fiction in 1983. Her latest published writing is the 2022 book titled ‘Gathering Blossoms Under Fire.’

Alice Walker continues to write books and poems and to speak actively on political and social issues across the globe, including her variation of feminism which she calls womanism, race, and pro-Palestinian activism in the Isreal-Palestine conflict.

Literature by Alice Walker

Explore literature by Alice Walker below, created by the team at Book Analysis.