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Alice (Malsenior) Walker Biography

Nationality: American. Born: Eatonton, Georgia, 1944. Education: Spelman College, Atlanta, 1961-63; Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, 1963-65, B.A. 1965. Career: Voter registration and Head Start program worker, Mississippi, and with New York City Department of Welfare, mid-1960s; teacher, Jackson State College, 1968-69, and Tougaloo College, 1970-71, both Mississippi; lecturer, Wellesley College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1972-73, and University of Massachusetts, Boston, 1972-73; associate professor of English, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, after 1977. Distinguished Writer, University of California, Berkeley, Spring 1982; Fannie Hurst Professor, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, Fall 1982. Co-founder and publisher, Wild Trees Press, Navarro, California, 1984-88. Awards: Bread Loaf Writers Conference scholarship, 1966; American Scholar prize, for essay, 1967; Merrill fellowship, 1967; MacDowell fellowship, 1967, 1977; Radcliffe Institute fellowship, 1971; Lillian Smith award, for poetry, 1973; American Academy Rosenthal award, 1974; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1977; Guggenheim grant, 1978; American Book award, 1983; Pulitzer prize, 1983; O. Henry award, 1986; Nora Astorga Leadership award, 1989; Fred Cody award for lifetime achievement, Bay Area Book Reviewers Association, 1990; Freedom to Write award, PEN Center USA West, 1990; Shelia award, Tubman African American Museum, 1998. Ph.D.: Russell Sage College, Troy, New York, 1972; D.H.L.: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1983. Lives in San Francisco.



The Third Life of Grange Copeland. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1970; London, Women's Press, 1985.

Meridian. New York, Harcourt Brace, and London, Deutsch, 1976.

The Color Purple. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1982; London, Women'sPress, 1983.

The Temple of My Familiar. San Diego, Harcourt Brace, and London, Women's Press, 1989.

Possessing the Secret of Joy. New York, Harcourt Brace, and London, Cape, 1992.

By the Light of My Father's Smile. New York, Random House, 1998.

Short Stories

In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women. New York, HarcourtBrace, 1973; London, Women's Press, 1984.

You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1981; London, Women's Press, 1982.

Complete Short Stories, London, Women's Press, n.d.

Everyday Use, edited by Barbara T. Christian. New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1994.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Cuddling," in Essence (New York), July 1985.

"Kindred Spirits," in Prize Stories 1986, edited by William Abrahams. New York, Doubleday, 1986.


Once. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1968; London, Women's Press, 1986.

Five Poems. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1972.

Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems. New York, HarcourtBrace, 1973; London, Women's Press, 1988.

Good Night, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning. New York, DialPress, 1979; London, Women's Press, 1987.

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful. New York, HarcourtBrace, 1984; London, Women's Press, 1985.

Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems 1965-1990.

San Diego, Harcourt Brace, and London, Women's Press, 1991.

Other (for children)

Langston Hughes, American Poet (biography). New York, Crowell, 1974.

To Hell with Dying. San Diego, Harcourt Brace, and London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1988.

Finding the Green Stone. San Diego, Harcourt Brace, and London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1991.


In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1983; London, Women's Press, 1984.

Living by the Word: Selected Writings 1973-1987. San Diego, Harcourt Brace, and London, Women's Press, 1988.

Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women, with Pratibha Parmar. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1993.

The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult, A Meditation on Life, Spirit, Art, and the Making of The Film The Color Purple, Ten Years Later. New York, Scribner, 1996.

Alice Walker Banned. San Francisco, Aunt Lute Books, 1996.

Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism. New York, Random House, 1997.

The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart. New York, RandomHouse, 2000.

Editor, I Love Myself When I Am Laughing … and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader. Old Westbury, New York, Feminist Press, 1979.



Alice Malsenior Walker: An Annotated Bibliography 1968-1986 by Louis H. Pratt and Darnell D. Pratt, Westport, Connecticut, Meckler, 1988; Alice Walker: An Annotated Bibliography 1968-1986 by Erma Davis Banks and Keith Byerman, London, Garland, 1989.

Critical Studies:

Brodie's Notes on Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" by Marion Picton, London, Pan, 1991; Alice Walker by Conna Histy Winchell, New York, Twayne, 1992; Alice Walker by Tony Gentry, New York, Chelsea, 1993; Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston: The Common Bond edited by Lillie P. Howard, Westport, Connecticut, and London, Greedwood Press, 1993; Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present edited by Henry Louis Gates and K.A. Appiah, New York, Amistad, 1993; Black Feminist Consciousness by Kashinath Ranveer, Jaipur, India, Printwell, 1995; The Voices of African American Women: The Use of Narrative and Authorial Voice in the Works of Harriet Jacobs, Zora Neale Hurston, and Alice Walker by Yvonne Johnson, New York, P. Lang, 1998; Critical Essays on Alice Walker, edited by Ikenna Dieke, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1999; Alice Walker by Maria Lauret, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1999; Alice Walker: Freedom Writer by Caroline Lazo, Minneapolis, Lerner Publications, 2000; Alice Walker, edited by Harold Bloom, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chelsea House Publishers, 2000; Alice Walker in the Classroom: Living by the Word by Carol Jago, Urbana, Illinois, National Council of Teachers of English, 2000.

* * *

With the publication of a single startling novel, The Color Purple, Alice Walker almost single-handedly brought the struggle of the African-American female into public view for the general reading audience in the United States. It paved the way for later novels like Toni Morrison's Beloved, to which it is often compared, to find a wider and more willing readership among audiences of all ethnic backgrounds.

While none of her novels since that one have achieved quite the same level of notoriety or are so frequently taught in schools and universities, there is no doubt that Walker's prolific and persistent political, cultural, and spiritual journeys through writing have engaged a national dialogue about important issues such as women's rights, race, and identity. Walker is an activist in each of the political, cultural, and spiritual spheres, as her many nonfiction titles attest. Her novels thus far include The Third Life of Grange Copeland and Meridian, which appeared before The Color Purple, and The Temple of My Familiar, Possessing the Secret of Joy, and By the Light of My Father's Smile, which appeared afterward. In her novels, as well as in her short fiction, essays, and poetry, Walker's activism is prevalent. In the novels, however, this activism runs the risk of didacticism. In other words, some of Walker's novels work more successfully as stories than others do.

Her second novel, Meridian, is a story about a civil rights activist from the 1960s and what happens to her during and after the movement on a personal level. In this novel, the political movement causes some real-life changes in Meridian, the protagonist. For example, she leaves her husband and child to join the movement with Truman, and she is given a scholarship as a result of her involvement. The struggles of the movement become even more complex, however, when they become personal and things do not always go as Meridian plans. Truman deserts her for a white woman, and college requires too much conformity. People in the movement change sides and loyalties are put into question. In some ways, Walker seems to be questioning the value of political activism throughout this book in a healthy sort of way. However, the reader considers these larger questions as a result of Meridian's experiences, not as a result of an imposing hand of the author.

Walker turned to the cultural sphere in The Color Purple. Celie survives incest and domestic abuse to gain more and more confidence in her own abilities and talents. In many ways, the novel is a classic American rags to riches story of sorts, which may account in part for the reason it, and the feature film made of the story, remain popular. However, Celie's voice throughout the novel is most engaging and creative on Walker's part. In a way much like James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the reader can chart Celie's progress and growth through her narrative of her own story. While some coincidences seem unlikely in the story (e.g. Celie gaining the inheritance just in time to make her happy by the end of the novel), the voice that was found not only by Celie, but by many silent late-twentieth-century women who were reading her story, easily overcomes the novel's occasional flaws.

Possessing the Secret of Joy contains a character who appears briefly in The Color Purple, but the novel itself is not as successful and represents the other type of Walker novel, where activism dominates story. Celie's daughter-in-law, Tashi, the young African woman married to Adam, suffers female circumcision in Africa and later returns to murder the woman who did it, M'Lissa. The novel takes a strong stand against the practice of female circumcision and becomes almost an argumentative essay against the practice rather than a story about Tashi's experience.

If Walker is social critic in Secret of Joy, she becomes a medium of sorts in an earlier, longer novel, The Temple of My Familiar. The book is about memory and family history being handed down, and the multiplicity of voices in the novel both fascinates and frustrates critics. Many find form surpassing content, which again distracts from the story at hand.

Unfortunately, the trend to move away from sound storytelling continues in By the Light of My Father's Smile. In a final act that might be prophetic to Walker's work, novelist Susannah becomes a human sacrifice and dies along with her books. The scene appears to be either a subconscious act of placing writers on some kind of martyr's pyre in terms of their activism, or Walker's attempt to kill off the novelist she feels may be dying a slow death anyway within her own creative energies. One can only wonder what will happen to Walker's dead activist novelist, whether she will resurrect or enjoy an afterlife returning to good storytelling.

—Connie Ann Kirk

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