Alice Walker a writing Activist The Humble Beginnings

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Alice Walker

The Humble Beginnings

  • Feb. 9th, 1944—Alice Walker is born to sharecropper parents (one of 9 children) in Eatonton, Georgia.
  • 1952—Alice Walker is blinded by a BB shot by one of her brothers. This incident while physically traumatizing—also emotionally traumatizes her for life and she writes about it frequently.

Living With Grandma &Grandpa

  • Because of the eye, she went to live with her grandparents and also because of a teacher who told her parents about the schools in their district.
  • Although she always felt isolated and even punished for it.
  • Begins writing stories and poems as a way of dealing with her eye—the heroine always looked like Alice Walker.

More Experiences

  • 1958 she visits her brother and his wife in Boston, MA. She has a cataract removed along with most of the scar tissue and she is given a fake eye which makes her look more normal.
  • 1960 she graduates valedictorian from her high school, most popular girl in class and even prom queen.

Campus Activism 101

  • 1961 Walker attends Spelman College, the famous African-American college for women
  • she ultimately rejects Spelman because it’s too nice and proper without the political issues and consciousness she craves in a changing world.
  • Her community raised the money for her to take the bus to school.
  • She does try to participate in Civil Rights activities at Spelman, but there isn’t much push for “feminist” civil rights there.

Campus Activism 101

  • She went to the World Peace conference in Helsinki, Finland while at Spelman.
  • She also met Coretta Scott King & participated in the march on Washington where she heard the famous “I Have A Dream,” speech.
  • However, she noticed while these did great things for civil rights in small ways, there wasn’t anything that was directly making the lives better for women or the people back home.

Advanced College Activism

  • Spelman didn’t like Walker’s activism.
  • Their goal was to produce educated ladies for future black leaders, not to produce activists
  • Walker “left” and went to Sarah Lawrence college in New York City.


  • Walker went to Africa as an exchange student in Uganda. She wrote a lot there, mainly poetry about the people and their lives.
  • This was before the “Black Arts Movement” in America, but it certainly inspired her own writing.


  • Alice Walker upon returning from Africa discovered she was pregnant
  • abortion a sin in her tight knit religious family
  • there was little money to support herself as a scholarship student (no such thing as child support then either).
  • Walker has an abortion, and slips into depression ( Walker considers suicide)

Walker Graduates…and then

  • After graduation, Alice spent the summer in Liberty County, Georgia
  • helped to initiate the welfare rights movement, and went door to door to registering voters in the African-American community
  • Her work with the most needy citizens in the state helped her to see the impact of poverty on relationships.
  • Whenever she found some free time, Alice sat down and continued to write.
  • She moved to New York City where she worked for the welfare department.
  • She was awarded her first writing grant in 1966. She had wanted to go to Africa to write, but decided against it and went down to Mississippi.
  • There she met a civil rights attorney, Melvyn Leventhal

Married Life

  • She married Melvyn Leventhal in 1967
  • Rebecca Walker (a well known author and feminist in her own right)
  • became the first interracial legally married couple in Mississippi.
  • While her husband fought school desegration in the courts, Alice worked as a history consultant for the Friends of the Children Mississippi Head Start Program history.

Writing As A Young Wife

  • In 1968, her first book of poetry, Once, that she had begun in college was finally published
  • Alice also made her official debut into the literary world when she published her first short story, "To Hell with Dying”, a reaction to all of the negative feelings she had as a result of undergoing an abortion


  • Walker takes Rebecca and they go to Cambridge, MA.
  • Walker teaches a course at Wellesley College in African-American Women’s Literature.
  • First of it’s kind in the country.
  • Second book of poems, Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems. This is nominated for a National Book Award. It eventually wins the Lillian Smith Award from the Southern Regional Council.

More Publications.

  • In 1974, Alice's book, Langston Hughes: American Poet was published, which was a reader whose intention was to teach children about the legendary Harlem Renaissance Poet.


  • Alice moved to New York City with her husband and her daughter
  • Alice worked only part-time at the magazine and dedicated the remainder of her time to her writing.
  • Published, Meridan, a novel that was highly critically acclaimed about women in the civil rights movement.


  • Her husband asks for a divorce, her father died and it was a very painful time for her.
  • She began work on a third work of poetry, Good Night Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning.


  • Alice 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.
  • a walk with her sister, Ruth, into the woods
  • While there, they discussed about a love triangle who they both knew about. Suddenly the missing piece of her novel came together.

New Beginnings

  • Alice made plans to leave the house in New York she had bought less than three months earlier.
  • It was her daughter, Rebecca's year to live with her father, so Alice packed up her bags and flew alone to San Francisco, CA.
  • renewed her long-time friendship with Robert Allen, a man whom she met during her time at Spelman

Writing TCP

  • San Francisco was not a beneficial for the growth of her characters.
  • Alice and her lover packed up their bags in search of a better environment
  • They moved to the city of Mendocino (like Georgia)


  • The book was written in what Alice termed as "Black Folks English.”
  • Speech that wouldn't intimidate men and women, like her mother
  • Only read a few pages and never gets a chance to finish it (suffered major stroke and was never able to finish the novel)

Internal Cultural Criticism

  • Although she received a lot of praise for her novel, she received criticism from some in the African-American community who thought her novel portrayed black men in negative stereotypical fashion as abusers and rapists.
  • Just like Zora Neale Hurston's critics during the Harlem Renaissance, some had not even read her book before offering attacks (“small minded”)


  • Alice earned an American Book Award for The Color Purple.
  • She was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for fiction which she went on to win in 1983.
  • She became the first African-American novelist to win the Pulitzer Prize.

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