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"Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender."
Alice Malsenior Walker was born on February 9, 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia as the eight and youngest child of Minnie Tallulah Grant Walker and Willie Lee Walker. Her parents were poor, hard working sharecroppers and raised her in a shack, but her education was wealthy of spirit. Minnie was supressed by the poverty and prejudice that many woman experienced. She was also very busy with the manual labor and many children that she had to care for. Alice once said in an interview, "I was the last child and my mother didn¡ät really want eight children, and she didn¡ät really bite her tongue about saying that". She describes her mother as a very patient woman who hardly ever lost temper except with the white landlord who thought that her children didn¡ät need an educaion.
Her father¡äs great - great - great grandmother Mary Poole was a slave forced to walk from Virginia to Georgia with two babys in her arms. Her mother¡äs grandmother Tallulah was mostly Cherokee Indian and she is deeply proud of her cultural inheritances.
When Alice was eight years old, she played "Cowboys and Indian" with her brothers and she was the indian with bow and arrow in her hands. One of her brothers shot her with a BB gun by accident which resulted in permanent damage to one eye (blindnness) and facial disfigurement that isolated her as a child. She spent her time reading, writing and carefully observing the people around her and fell into somewhat of a depression. She secluded herself from the other children and as she explains, "I no longer liked the little girl I was. I felt old, and because I felt I was unpleasant to look at, filled with shame. I retreated into solitude, read stories and began to write poems." But the positive effect of her seclusion was that she formed a close relationship with her mother and her aunts, gaining from them a vision of independent womanhood.
After graduating high school as valedictorian and elected queen of the senior prom in 1961 Walker is awarded a scholarship for disabled students at the historical African - American women¡äs institution, Spelman College. As she left home for Atlanta, Georgia, her mother gave her three special gifts: a sewing - machine for self - sufficiency, a suitcase for independence and a typewriter for creativity. While at Spelman, Alice was involved in various civil rights demonstrations and was invited to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.¡äs home in 1962 at the end of her freshman year in recognition of her invitation to attend the Youth World Peace Festival in Helsinki, Finnland. After attending the conference, Alice travelled to Europe for the summer. This began her love for travel and encountering the many peoples and cultures of the world which broadened her mind and happiness.
In August 1963, Alice travelled to Washington D.C. to take part in the March of Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Perched in a tree limb to try to get a view, she coudn¡ät see much of the main podium, but was able to hear Dr. King¡äs "I have a dream" - speech.
After two years at Spelman, she learned she had received a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence, a liberal arts college in New York. Although not wanting to leave the civil rights movement, Alice¡äs teachers at Spelman encouraged her to attend Sarah Lawrence where she¡äd be one of a handful of African - Americans at the prestigious university and so she accepted this challenge. During her junior year (1964) she travelled to Uganda, Africa, as an exchange student. Back at university Alice realized she was pregnant. Frightened and not knowing how to tell her parents she considered committing suicide and even slept with a razor blade under her pillow for several weeks. She also wrote volumes of poetry, trying to come to terms with her feelins and worst fears. With the help of a classmate, Alice was able to have a safe abortion. During her recovery from the depression and anxiety she had suffered, she wrote a short story titled "To Hell With Dying", which is the base of a contradictory reaction to all he negative feelings she had as a result of undergoing the abortion. Her mentor Ruykeyser sent the story to publishers as well as to the African - American poet Langston Hughes. To Alice¡äs delight, the story was published (in 1967) and she received a hand - written note of encouragement from Hughes, when she was just 21 years old. She received her bachelor of arts (B.A.) degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965.
After graduation, Alice spent the summer in Liberty County, Georgia, where she helped to initiate the welfare rights movement by doing door - to - door voter¡äs registration in the African - American community. Her work with the most needy citizens in the state helped her to see the impact of poverty on the relationships between black men and women. Whenever she found some free time, Alice sat down and continued to write.
In the fall of 1965, Alice moved to New York City where she worked in the city¡äs welfare department and won a writing fellowship. But the struggle in the South beckoned her back, where in the summer of 1966 she again registered voters door - to - door in Missippi
She also met a young white jewish law student, named Melvyn Leventhal, who was supportive of her writing and her love for nature. Alice fell in love with the passionate man who would take civil rights cases into the courts. She returned to New York City with him where he was attending law school. Leventhal encouraged Alice¡äs writing. One year later, Alice wrote an essay titled "The Civil Rights Movement: What Good Was It? (Was It Good?)" which became her first published article and won the first place in The American Scholar magazine annual essay contest.
Alice and Melvyn married while she worked on her first novel, on March 17, 1967 in New York. They moved back to Mississippi soon afterwards and became the first legally married interracial couple of the state. Here he could pursue civil rights ligitation and Alice worked as a history Consultant to Black Studies Friends of the children of Mississippi, collecting oral histories of black women.
The conditions they lived in were extremely dangerous. Since there was still a great deal of racial prejudice in the state against African - Americans and because her husband was working in the courts to dismantle the laws barring desegregation, animosity against the couple ran high. During the time in Mississippi, they had to sleep with a gun under their bed just for protection.
1968 was a very turbulent year for Alice. She continued her writing, accepted a teaching position at Jackson State University and published her first volume of poetry "Once". The same week she finished her first novel "The Third Life of Grange Copeland", her daughter Rebecca Grant was born. The novel received literary praise but also criticism. The story involves the murder of a woman by her husband. Many African - American critics said that she dealt too harshly with the male characters in her book. Alice rebutted such claims, saying that women are too often abused by men they love.
Next Alice took a writer - in - residence position at Tougaloo College, Mississippi. As she was not taught a single work by an African - American during college, she decided to introduce her students to some of them (preferred women). In her search for material, she discovered Zora Neale Hurston who was considered a leading contributor to the Harlem Renaissance movement in the 1920¡äs and she was very passionate in her resurrection of Hurston. As she had no marked grave, Alice paid out of her own pocket to have a gravestone marker created in honor of her inspiration which reads:
Zora Neale Hurston
"A Genius of the South"
1901 - 1960
After it was erected, she placed flowers on the graveside of her mentor and inspiration in memorium. Ironically, it was during this very same year that her own father died.
In 1972, Alice moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts with her daughter Rebecca where she was hired to teach at the all - women¡äs school of Wellesley College. There, Alice created a class for the study of African - American Women Writers. This was the first known class of ist kind in the country.
She then accepted a job to teach at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
In 1973, she published her first collection of short stories "In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women" and her second volume of poetry "Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems", which was nominated for a National Book Award and won numerous awards.
The year after, Alice moved back to New York where she became a contributing editor at "Ms." - magazine. Parallely, she worked on her poetry and prose daily so that she was able to publish her second novel "Meridian" in 1976. The book chronicles a young woman¡äs struggle during the Civil Rights Movement. Alice had much personal experience to draw from and critics hail it as one of the best novels to come out of the Civil Rights Movement. At the same time, her marriage was falling apart behind closed doors and she describes this as being a very difficult time in her life. She and her husband Mel finally decided to divorce. The divorce was an amicable one and when they separated they decided to remain friends. Still reeling from the grief over the death of her father and her divorce, she turned to writing to sustain her through the pain.
Since "Meridian" received much critical acclaim, the prestigious Guggenheim Foundation awarded her a grant in 1978, which allowed her to keep her focus solely on her writing. In California, she fell in love with Robert Allen, editor of "Black Scholar". They moved to a country home in Mendocino, Northern California. There Alice¡äs writing proliferated! She decided to start work on a new novel and came up with the idea of writing a story about two women who felt married to the same man. She also wanted to make her novel a historical one, but had problems figuring out a plot. The plot line for her novel did not become clear for her until she took a walk with her sister Ruth into the woods. While there, they discussed a love triangle they both knew. Suddenly, the missing piece of her novel came up. She decided to take a year of silence in order to write it even if money was extremly tight during this time. She believed that it woult take five years to write her novel, but it only took less than a year complete. In 1982, Alice Walker¡äs third novel "The Color Purple". Alice¡äs mother only read a few pages of the book and never got a chance to finish it, because she suffered a major stroke and was never able to finish the novel her daughter had written. The book went on to win the Pulitzer Price for fiction (in 1983), she became the first African - American novelist to win the Pulitzer Price, the American Book Award and escalated Alice to world - wide fame and it became a bestseller. But although she received a lot of praise, she received criticism from some in the African - American community (like she had already for "The Third Life of Grange Copeland") who thought her novel portrayed black men in negative stereotypical fashion as abusers and rapists. Just like Zora Neale Hurston¡äs critics during the Harlem Renaissance, some had not even read her book before offering attacks. Although she saw the critical attacks as being small - minded and ignorant, they still hurt none the less.
Perhaps in explanation, she published "In Search of Our Mother¡äs Gardens" in 1983 which contains many essays on her "womanist" ideology.
Because of soaring popularity, she was offered a teaching position at University of California at Berkley in the spring of 1982 which she accepted. In the fall she worked at Brandeis University.
Alice was approached by the film directors Peter Guber and Jon Peters about bying the rights of her book to make into a film. She learns that Steven Spielberg would be directing the film but becomes even more so interested when she learns that Quincy Jones will produce it. She accepted their offer and Warner Brothers paid her $ 350.000 for the rights and she was hired as a consultant on the film and so she was able to voice opinions on various parts of the story and casting. She writes a script for the movie, but it is not used. Whoopi Goldberg, an unknown comedian at the time, is hired to play the lead of Celie. Ohter illustrious members of the cast are Danny Glover and a then unknown Chicago talkshow host named Oprah Winfrey who would go on to international superstardom. Alice was both delighted and disappointed in the screen rendering of the story. Her beloved characters were not her own on screen, but she did admire the powerful performances by the actors.
When the movie was finished, she had mixed feelings about the final product. But in her hometown of Eatonton, where it premiered on January 18th 1986, she received a hero¡äs welcome and a parade. Her sister Ruth started a charitable foundation in her honor called "The Color Purple Foundation".
Like the release of the book, new critics came up together with the movie saying the movie¡äs images are portraying negative message of black men. Protestants were in front of the cinemas showing the film and called her "traitor", "liar" and "whore", for the images portrayed in her movie. Alice was hurt by the criticism, but continued to speak out, in spite of it, she, like her predecessor Zora Neale Hurston before her, stucked to her views and continued to write and speak out.
In 1988, the short story that Alice had written in college, "To Hell With Dying", was released as a children¡äs book. In this and the following years, she published a number of novels, children¡äs stories and essays. She writes inspired by her ever - expandingpolitical activism. From the Civil Rights Movement to the Anti - Nuclear Movement, the Environmental Movement, the Women¡äs Movement (she continues as a contributing editor to "Ms. Magazine"), and most recently the movement to protect indigenous people, their cultures and natural environments. Alice remains an outspoken activist on issues of oppression and power; championing the victims of racism, sexism and military - industrialism and seeking to preserve our natual heritages.
In 1996, her third book of collected essays was released called "The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult". It documents through essays and journal entries the loss of her beloved mother, her battles with Lyme Disease and depression, her feelings about the criticism on her novel and the movie "The Color Purple" as well as her break up with her long - time partner Robert Allen. It also includes her original version of the script for the movie, which was never used, and many of her notes and remembrances from the making of her novel into film.
In September 1998, Alice published "By the Light of My Father¡äs Smile", her first novel in six years. It explores the connections between sexuality and spirituality and is her current book.
Alice currently resides in Mendocino, California, on her ranch with her dog, Marley.
¡¤ To Hell with Dying - short story, 1967
¡¤ Once - poems, 1968
¡¤ The Third Life of Grange Copeland, 1970
¡¤ In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women and Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems, 1973
¡¤ Langston Hughes, American Poet - children¡äs book, 1974
¡¤ Meridian, 1976
¡¤ You Can¡ät Keep a Good Woman Down - stories, 1981
¡¤ The Color Purple,1982
¡¤ In Search of Our Mother¡äs Gardens - womanist prose, 1983