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Alice Walker
Alice Walker
Born (1944-02-09) February 9, 1944 (age 77)
Eatonton, Georgia, USA
OccupationNovelist, short story writer, poet, political activist
GenresAfrican American literature
Notable work(s)The Color Purple
Notable award(s)Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
National Book Award
Spouse(s)Melvyn Roseman Leventhal (married 1967, divorced 1976)
Partner(s)Robert Allen, Tracy Chapman
ChildrenRebecca Walker


Alice Malsenior Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American author, poet, and activist. She has written both fiction and essays about race and gender. She is best known for the novel The Color Purple (1982). She won the National Book Award [1] and the Pulitzer Prize for the novel.[2]

Early life

Walker is an African American who was born in Eatonton, Georgia. She is the youngest of eight children. Her parents were Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Lou Tallulah Grant. Her father, who was, in her words, "wonderful at math but a terrible farmer," earned only $300 a year from sharecropping and dairy farming. Her mother added to the family income by working as a maid.[3] She worked 11 hours a day for USD $17 per week to help pay for Alice to attend college.[4]

In 1952, Walker was accidentally hit in the right eye by a BB gun fired by one of her brothers.[5] Because the family had no car, the Walkers could not take their daughter to a hospital for immediate help. By the time they reached a doctor a week later, she had become permanently blind in that eye. When a layer of scar tissue formed over her wounded eye, Alice became self-conscious and painfully shy. She felt like an outcast and turned for comfort to reading and to writing poetry. When she was 14, the scar tissue was removed. She later became valedictorian and was voted most-popular girl, as well as queen of her senior class.

After high school, Walker went to Spelman College in Atlanta. She later moved to Sarah Lawrence College near New York City, graduating in 1965. Walker became interested in the U.S. civil rights movement. This was partly due to the influence of activist Howard Zinn, who was one of her professors at Spelman College. Walker returned to the South where she became involved with voter registration drives, campaigns for welfare rights and children's programs in Mississippi.[6]


Alice Walker met Martin Luther King Jr. when she was a student at Spelman College. Walker credits King for her decision to return to the American South as an activist for the Civil Rights Movement. She marched with hundreds of thousands in August in the 1963 March on Washington. As a young adult, she volunteered to register black voters in Georgia and Mississippi.[7][8]

On March 8, 2003, International Women's Day, on the eve of the Iraq War, Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Terry Tempest Williams were arrested with 24 others for crossing a police line. This was during an anti-war protest rally outside the White House.

In March 2009, Alice Walker traveled to Gaza in response to the Gaza War. She was with a group of 60 other female activists from the anti-war group Code Pink. Their purpose was to deliver aid, to meet with NGOs and residents, and to ask Israel and Egypt to open their borders into Gaza.

Personal life

Alice Walker (left) with Gloria Steinem on the cover of Ms. magazine in 2009

In 1965, Walker met Melvyn Roseman Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer. They were married on March 17, 1967 in New York City. Later that year the couple moved to Jackson, Mississippi. They became "the first legally married inter-racial couple in Mississippi".[9][10] They were harassed and threatened by whites, including the Ku Klux Klan. The couple had a daughter Rebecca in 1969. Walker and her husband divorced on friendly terms in 1976.

Walker and her daughter grew apart. Rebecca felt herself to be more of "a political symbol... than a cherished daughter". She published a memoir called Black White and Jewish, about the complexities of her parents' relationship and her childhood. Rebecca recalls her teenage years when her mother would go to her far-off writing studio while “I was left with money to buy my own meals and lived on a diet of fast food.” Since the birth of Rebecca’s son Tenzin, her mother has not spoken to her. Rebecca has learned that she was cut out of her mother’s will in favor of a distant cousin.[11][12][13]

In the mid-1990s, Walker was involved in a romance with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman.[14]

In 2011 shooting began on Beauty in Truth, a documentary film about Walker's life directed by Pratibha Parmar.

Walker is a feminist. She made the word womanist for African American feminism against female genital mutilation.[15]

Selected awards and honors

Selected works

Novels and short story collections

Poetry collections

  • Once (1968)
  • Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973)
  • Good Night, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning (1979)
  • Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1985)
  • Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems (1991)
  • Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth (2003)
  • A Poem Traveled Down My Arm: Poems And Drawings (2003)
  • Collected Poems (2005)
  • Hard Times Require Furious Dancing: New Poems
  • "Rage"

Non-fiction books

  • In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)
  • Living by the Word (1988)
  • Warrior Marks (1993)
  • The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult (1996)
  • Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism (1997)
  • Go Girl!: The Black Woman's Book of Travel and Adventure (1997)
  • Pema Chodron and Alice Walker in Conversation (1999)
  • Sent By Earth: A Message from the Grandmother Spirit After the Bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon (2001)
  • We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For (2006)
  • Overcoming Speechlessness (2010)


  1. 1.0 1.1 "National Book Awards - 1983". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
    (With essays by Anna Clark and Tarayi Jones from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Fiction". Past winners and finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  3. World Authors 1995-2000, 2003. Biography Reference Bank database. Retrieved 2009-04-10.
  4. Walker, Alice (May 6, 2010). "Alice Walker". The Tavis Smiley Show. The Smiley Group, Inc.. 
  5. "Enloe Magnet High School / Homepage". 
  6. On Finding Your Bliss. Interview by Evelyn C. White October 1998. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  7. Democracy Now - Walker Interview transcript and audio file on "Inner Light in A time of darkness". Retrieved 2010-02-10.
  8. Democracy Now video on the African American Vote. Retrieved 2010-02-10.
  9. Times article The day feminist icon Alice Walker resigned as my mother
  10. Inner Light in a Time of Darkness: A Conversation with Author and Poet Alice Walker. Democracy Now!. November 17, 2006. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  11. "How my mother's fanatical feminist views tore us apart, by the daughter of The Color Purple author". 
  12. Daily Mail article by Rebecca Walker: How my mother's fanatical views tore us apart
  13. The Times article The day feminist icon Alice Walker resigned as my mother . Retrieved 2010-02.
  14. Guardian Article Friday 15 December 2006 - Interview with Walker No Retreat. Retrieved 2010-05.
  15. Divinity, Jone Johnson Lewis Jone Johnson Lewis has a Master of; Member, Is a Humanist Clergy; late 1960s, certified transformational coach She has been involved in the women's movement since the. "Learn about Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize Winner and Activist". 
  • Walker, Alice and Parmar, Pratibha (1993). Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women. Diane Books Publishing Company. ISBN 0-7881-5581-4