|Born||Alice Malsenior Walker|
February 9, 1944
Eatonton, Georgia, U.S.
|Alma mater||Spelman College|
Sarah Lawrence College
|Notable works||The Color Purple|
|Notable awards||Pulitzer Prize for Fiction |
National Book Award
(m. 1967; div. 1976)
|Partner||Robert L. Allen, Tracy Chapman|
Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and social activist. In 1982, she became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which she was awarded for her novel The Color Purple. Over the span of her career, Walker has published seventeen novels and short story collections, twelve non-fiction works, and collections of essays and poetry. She has faced criticism for alleged antisemitism and for her endorsement of the conspiracist David Icke.
Alice Malsenior Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, a rural farming town, to Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Tallulah Grant. Both of Walker's parents were sharecroppers, though her mother also worked as a seamstress to earn extra money. Walker, the youngest of eight children, was first enrolled in school when she was just four years old at East Putnam Consolidated.
As an eight-year-old, Walker sustained an injury to her right eye after one of her brothers fired a BB gun. Since her family did not have access to a car, Walker could not receive immediate medical attention, causing her to become permanently blind in that eye. It was after the injury to her eye that Walker began to take up reading and writing. The scar tissue was removed when Walker was 14, but a mark still remains. It is described in her essay "Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self".
As the schools in Eatonton were segregated, Walker attended the only high school available to black students: Butler Baker High School. There, she went on to become valedictorian, and enrolled in Spelman College in 1961 after being granted a full scholarship by the state of Georgia for having the highest academic achievements of her class. She found two of her professors, Howard Zinn and Staughton Lynd, to be great mentors during her time at Spelman, but both were transferred two years later. Walker was offered another scholarship, this time from Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, and after the firing of her Spelman professor, Howard Zinn, Walker accepted the offer. Walker became pregnant at the start of her senior year and had an abortion; this experience, as well as the bout of suicidal thoughts that followed, inspired much of the poetry found in Once, Walker's first collection of poetry. Walker graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965.
Walker wrote the poems that would culminate in her first book of poetry, entitled Once, while she was a student in East Africa and during her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College. Walker would slip her poetry under the office door of her professor and mentor, Muriel Rukeyser, when she was a student at Sarah Lawrence. Rukeyser then showed the poems to her literary agent. Once was published four years later by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Following graduation, Walker briefly worked for the New York City Department of Welfare, before returning to the South. She took a job working for the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Jackson, Mississippi. Walker also worked as a consultant in black history to the Friends of the Children of Mississippi Head Start program. She later returned to writing as writer-in-residence at Jackson State University (1968–69) and Tougaloo College (1970–71). In addition to her work at Tougaloo College, Walker published her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, in 1970. The novel explores the life of Grange Copeland, an abusive, irresponsible sharecropper, husband and father.
In the fall of 1972, Walker taught a course in Black Women's Writers at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
In 1973, before becoming editor of Ms. Magazine, Walker and literary scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered an unmarked grave they believed to be that of Zora Neale Hurston in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Walker had it marked with a gray marker stating ZORA NEALE HURSTON / A GENIUS OF THE SOUTH / NOVELIST FOLKLORIST / ANTHROPOLOGIST / 1901–1960. The line "a genius of the south" is from Jean Toomer's poem Georgia Dusk, which appears in his book Cane. Hurston was actually born in 1891, not 1901.
Walker's 1975 article "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston", published in Ms. Magazine and later retitled "Looking for Zora", helped revive interest in the work of this African-American writer and anthropologist.
In 1976, Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published. Meridian is a novel about activist workers in the South, during the civil rights movement, with events that closely parallel some of Walker's own experiences. In 1982, she published what has become her best-known work, The Color Purple. The novel follows a young, troubled black woman fighting her way through not just racist white culture but patriarchal black culture as well. The book became a bestseller and was subsequently adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg, featuring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as a 2005 Broadway musical totalling 910 performances.
Walker has written several other novels, including The Temple of My Familiar (1989) and Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992) (which featured several characters and descendants of characters from The Color Purple). She has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other writings. Her work is focused on the struggles of black people, particularly women, and their lives in a racist, sexist, and violent society.
In 2000, Walker released a collection of short fiction, based on her own life, called The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart, exploring love and race relations. In this book, Walker details her interracial relationship with Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a civil rights attorney who was also working in Mississippi. The couple married on March 17, 1967, in New York City, since interracial marriage was then illegal in the South, and divorced in 1976. They had a daughter, Rebecca, together in 1969. Rebecca Walker, Alice Walker's only child, is an American novelist, editor, artist, and activist. The Third Wave Foundation, an activist fund, was co-founded by Rebecca and Shannon Liss-Riordan. Her godmother is Alice Walker's mentor and co-founder of Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinem.
In 2007, Walker donated her papers, consisting of 122 boxes of manuscripts and archive material, to Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. In addition to drafts of novels such as The Color Purple, unpublished poems and manuscripts, and correspondence with editors, the collection includes extensive correspondence with family members, friends and colleagues, early treatment of the film script for The Color Purple, syllabi from courses she taught, and fan mail. The collection also contains a scrapbook of poetry compiled when Walker was 15, entitled "Poems of a Childhood Poetess".
In 2013, Alice Walker published two new books, one of them entitled The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm's Way. The other was a book of poems entitled The World Will Follow Joy Turning Madness into Flowers (New Poems).
Walker met Martin Luther King Jr. when she was a student at Spelman College in the early 1960s. She credits King for her decision to return to the American South as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. She took part in the 1963 March on Washington with hundreds of thousands of people. Later, she volunteered to register black voters in Georgia and Mississippi.
On March 8, 2003, International Women's Day, on the eve of the Iraq War, Walker was arrested with 26 others, including fellow authors Maxine Hong Kingston and Terry Tempest Williams, at a protest outside the White House, for crossing a police line during an anti-war rally. Walker wrote about the experience in her essay "We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For".
Walker's specific brand of feminism included advocacy of women of color. In 1983, Walker coined the term womanist in her collection In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, to mean "a black feminist or feminist of color". The term was made to unite women of color and the feminist movement at "the intersection of race, class, and gender oppression". Walker states that "'Womanism' gives us a word of our own". because it is a discourse of Black women and the issues they confront in society. Womanism as a movement came into fruition in 1985 at the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature to address Black women's concerns from their own intellectual, physical, and spiritual perspectives."
Walker is a judge member of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, and she supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.
In January 2009, Walker was one of over fifty signatories of a letter protesting against the Toronto International Film Festival's "City to City" spotlight on Israeli filmmakers, and condemning Israel as an "apartheid regime". Two months later, Walker and sixty other female activists from the anti-war group Code Pink traveled to Gaza in response to the Gaza War. Their purpose was to deliver aid, meet with NGOs and residents, and persuade Israel and Egypt to open their borders with Gaza. She planned to visit Gaza again in December 2009 to participate in the Gaza Freedom March. On June 23, 2011, she announced plans to participate in an aid flotilla to Gaza that attempted to break Israel's naval blockade.
In May 2013, Walker posted an open letter to singer Alicia Keys, asking her to cancel a planned concert in Tel Aviv. "I believe we are mutually respectful of each other's path and work," Walker wrote. "It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists." Keys rejected the plea. Walker has refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated and published in Hebrew, saying that she finds that "Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories" and noting that she had refused to allow Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of her novel to be shown in South Africa until the system of apartheid was dismantled.
In June 2013, Walker and others appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning, an American soldier imprisoned for releasing classified information. In recent years she has spoken out repeatedly in support of Julian Assange.
Walker has been a longtime sponsor of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In early 2015, she wrote: "So I think of any movement for peace and justice as something that is about stabilizing our inner spirit so that we can go on and bring into the world a vision that is much more humane than the one we have dominant today."
Since 2012, Walker has expressed appreciation for the works of the British conspiracy theorist David Icke. On BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, she said that Icke's book Human Race Get Off Your Knees: The Lion Sleeps No More, which contains anti-semitic conspiracy theories, would be the book she would take to a desert island. The book promotes the theory that the Earth is ruled by shapeshifting reptilian humanoids and "Rothschild Zionists". Jonathan Kay of the National Post described this book (and Icke's other books) as "hateful, hallucinogenic nonsense". Kay wrote that Walker's public praise for Icke's book was "stunningly offensive" and that by taking it seriously, she was disqualifying herself "from the mainstream marketplace of ideas". In 2013, the Anti-Defamation League called anti-Zionist essays in Walker's book The Cushion in the Road "replete with fervently anti-Jewish ideas" and said Walker was "unabashedly infected with anti-Semitism".
In 2017, Walker published a poem on her blog entitled "It Is Our (Frightful) Duty to Study The Talmud", recommending that the reader should start with YouTube to learn about the allegedly shocking aspects of the Talmud, describing it as "poison". The poem used antisemitic tropes and arguments. In it, she also "describes her reaction when a Jewish friend", later stated to be her ex-husband, accused her "of appearing to be antisemitic".
In 2018, Walker was asked by an interviewer from The New York Times Book Review "What books are on your nightstand?" She listed Icke's And the Truth Shall Set You Free, a book promoting an antisemitic conspiracy theory which draws on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and questions the Holocaust. Walker said: "In Icke's books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about. A curious person's dream come true." The publication of the interview in the "By the Book" weekly column generated significant criticism of Walker and the New York Times Book Review. The Review was criticized both for publishing the interview at all and for failing to contextualize And the Truth Shall Set You Free as an antisemitic work. Walker defended her admiration for Icke and his book, saying: "I do not believe he is anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish". Walker argued that any "attempt to smear David Icke, and by association, me, is really an effort to dampen the effect of our speaking out in support of the people of Palestine". Following the controversy Roxane Gay argued that "Alice Walker has been anti-Semitic for years". The NYT released a statement that the contents of the interview "do not imply an endorsement by Times editors".
In 2019 Ayanna Pressley disavowed antisemitism after an uproar ensued following her tweeting an Alice Walker quote. She tweeted "I fully condemn and denounce anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry in all their forms – and the hateful actions they embolden" and said she had been unaware of Walker's statements on the issue.
In 2020, after learning of Walker's support of anti-Semitism, the host of the New York Times podcast Sugar Calling described herself as "mortified" for having hosted Walker on her show and said: "If I'd known, I wouldn't have asked Alice Walker to be on the show."
In April 2022, Gayle King of CBS News was criticized for interviewing Walker without challenging her anti-Semitic writings. After the interview, King released a statement, saying: "These are not only legitimate questions, they are mandatory questions. I certainly would have asked her about the criticisms, if I had been aware of them before the interview with Ms. Walker."
In 2022, Walker was disinvited from the Bay Area Book Festival due to what the organizers referred to as her "endorsement of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist David Icke".
In 1965, Walker met Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer. They were married on March 17, 1967, in New York City. Later that year the couple relocated to Jackson, Mississippi, becoming the first legally-married interracial couple in Mississippi since miscegenation laws were introduced in the state. They were harassed and threatened by whites, including the Ku Klux Klan.[page needed] The couple had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1969. Walker and her husband divorced in 1976.
In the late 1970s, Walker moved to northern California. In 1984, she and fellow writer Robert L. Allen co-founded Wild Tree Press, a feminist publishing company in Anderson Valley, California. Walker legally added "Tallulah Kate" to her name in 1994 to honor her mother, Minnie Tallulah Grant, and paternal grandmother, Tallulah. Minnie Tallulah Grant's grandmother, Tallulah, was Cherokee.
Walker has claimed she was in a romantic relationship with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman in the mid-1990s, saying: "It was delicious and lovely and wonderful and I totally enjoyed it and I was completely in love with her but it was not anybody's business but ours." Chapman has not publicly commented on the existence of a relationship and maintains a strict separation between her private and public life.
Walker's spirituality has influenced some of her most well-known novels, including The Color Purple. She has written of her interest in Transcendental Meditation. Walker's exploration of religion in much of her writing draws on a literary tradition that includes writers like Zora Neale Hurston.
Beauty in Truth (2013) is a documentary film about Walker directed by Pratibha Parmar. Phalia (Portrait of Alice Walker) (1989) is a photograph by Maud Sulter from her Zabat series originally produced for the Rochdale Art Gallery in England.
Novels and short story collections
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