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Cover of Alice Walker's ABSOLUTE TRUTH IN THE GOODNESS OF THE EARTH: NEW POEMS
3.21.03
Arts and Culture:
Alice Walker, Author and Activist
More on This Story:
Biography and Bibliography

One of the leading voices among black American women writers, Alice Walker has published books of influential poetry, novels, short stories, essays, and criticism.

Born on February 9, 1944, Alice Walker was the eighth and youngest child born to poor sharecroppers in Eatonton, Georgia. One of the formative events of her youth was an accident she suffered at age 8; while playing with her brothers, Alice's right eye was blinded and scarred by a BB gun pellet. This injury was partially corrected when she was 14, but she would never regain sight in that eye.

In 1961, she graduated high school as both valedictorian and prom queen and went on to Spelman College in Atlanta on scholarship. She excelled both academically and politically while studying there. Her political activism won her an invitation to the Youth World Peace Festival in Helsinki, Finland and in recognition of this achievement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. extended an invitation to his own home at the end of her freshman year. Later, she would travel to Washington, DC to participate in the March on Washington in August 1963, where she saw (though from a distance) Dr. King's "I have a dream" address.

After two years of study, Walker was offered a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and although reluctant to leave the heart of the civil rights movement, she became one of the few black students in attendance at Sarah Lawrence.

After struggling with depression and considering suicide during a particularly difficult time in her senior year, Walker wrote a short story titled, "To Hell With Dying." Her mentor, poet Muriel Ruykeyser sent the story to publishers, as well as to the African-American poet Langston Hughes. These efforts paid off — the story was published and Hughes sent Alice a handwritten note of encouragement.

Her first book of poems, ONCE, was completed and accepted for publication the same difficult year, although it would not actually be released until 1968. Walker's early promise has been sustained by her work in the decades since. She won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for THE COLOR PURPLE in 1982, and remains one of America's best-selling authors.

Read Alice Walker's bibliography below:

ONCE, 1968
Walker's first book of poems, completed while she was a senior at Sarah Lawrence, was largely written in the span of a week during the winter of 1965 when she was struggling with depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide after deciding to have an abortion.
THE THIRD LIFE OF GRANGE COPELAND, 1970
Walker started writing this novel after winning a writing fellowship to the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. Published the same week her daughter, Rebecca Grant, was born, the novel depicts cycles of male violence over three generations in an impoverished southern black family, starting with Grange Copeland. While many critics praised the novel, some objected to her portrayal of black men as violent.
REVOLUTIONARY PETUNIAS AND OTHER POEMS, 1973
Written during a period in which Walker was particularly inspired by the writing of Zora Neale Hurston, the poems in this collection cover themes of motherhood, daughterhood, and activism.
IN LOVE AND TROUBLE, 1973
This collection of short stories features thirteen black women protagonists and includes "Everyday Use," one of the most anthologized of all Walker's stories.
LANGSTON HUGHES, AMERICAN POET, 1974
MERIDIAN, 1976
The novel chronicles the personal evolution of a young black woman during the Civil Rights Movement. Marge Piercy wrote in the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW that Walker "writes with a sharp critical sense as she deals with the issues of tactics and strategy in the civil rights movement, with the nature of commitment, the possibility of interracial love and communication, the vital and lethal strands in American and black experience, with violence and nonviolence." MERIDIAN received such acclaim that Walker accepted a Guggenheim fellowship to concentrate on writing full time.
I LOVE MYSELF WHEN I AM LAUGHING...AND THEN AGAIN WHEN I AM LOOKING MEAN AND IMPRESSIVE: A ZORA NEALE HURSTON READER, 1979
GOOD NIGHT, WILLIE LEE, I'LL SEE YOU IN THE MORNING, 1979
YOU CAN'T KEEP A GOOD WOMAN DOWN, 1981
"These fourteen provocative and often humorous stories show women oppressed but not defeated. No longer do they excuse the aggression of others; no longer are they suspended in their unhappy condition. The women here claim every bit of space they make.

"These are modern stories: about love, lust, fame, and cultural thievery; the perils of pornography, abortion, and rape; the delight of new lovers; and the rediscovery of old friends, affirmed even across self-imposed color lines."

THE COLOR PURPLE, 1982
Walker's most famous novel, THE COLOR PURPLE, written in the epistolary tradition, won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award. The story was later made into a motion picture produced by Quincy Jones and directed by Steven Spielberg.
IN SEARCH OF OUR MOTHERS' GARDENS: WOMANIST PROSE, 1983
At the start of this collection of essays, articles, reviews, and statements written between 1966 and 1982, Walker defines a "Womanist" as:
A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, "You acting womanish," i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered "good" for one. Interested in grown-up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up.
In one of the three alternate definitions she provides, Walker writes, "Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender." She writes about black women in relation to their families, their mothers, each other, black men, white society, and the world at large. She also discusses the writing of Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Flannery O'Connor, and... Alice Walker.
HORSES MAKE A LANDSCAPE LOOK MORE BEAUTIFUL, 1984
LIVING BY THE WORD: SELECTED WRITINGS 1973-1987, 1988
THE TEMPLE OF MY FAMILIAR, 1989
This tale of three pairs of lovers spans three continents and thousands of years of evolution. The tale explores the depths of human character, history, myths and legends to uncover beauty and joy.
HER BLUE BODY EVERYTHING WE KNOW: EARTHLING POEMS, 1965-1990, 1991
POSSESSING THE SECRET OF JOY, 1992
This novel focuses on one woman's trauma after forced genital mutilation.
WARRIOR MARKS: FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION AND THE SEXUAL BLINDING OF WOMEN, 1993
Walker traveled to Africa with filmmaker Pratibha Parmar to make a documentary on female genital mutilation. This book was written as a companion to the film of the same name.
THE SAME RIVER TWICE: HONORING THE DIFFICULT, 1996
Published after THE COLOR PURPLE was made into a movie, this collection includes the never-used screenplay Walker wrote, never-before-seen diary entries and letters, as well as new writings by the author on such topics as art, motherhood, illness, and relationships.
BANNED, 1996
Walker offers a detailed account of the effort to censor two of her stories, "Roselily" and "Am I Blue."
ANYTHING WE LOVE CAN BE SAVED: A WRITER'S ACTIVISM, 1997
This collection of essays inspired by Walker's political activism speaks on civil rights, environmentalism, the anti-nuclear movement, the women's movement, and the movement to protect indigenous people, their cultures and natural environments.
BY THE LIGHT OF MY FATHER'S SMILE, 1998
Walker examines the connections between sexuality and spirituality in this novel about the relationships of fathers and daughters.
THE WAY FORWARD IS WITH A BROKEN HEART, 2000
This collection of stories combines autobiography and fiction as Walker examines the bindings and breakings of relationships with friends and family and lovers.
SENT BY EARTH: A MESSAGE FROM THE GRANDMOTHER SPIRIT AFTER THE ATTACKS ON THE WORLD TRADE CENTER AND THE PENTAGON, 2001
ABSOLUTE TRUTH IN THE GOODNESS OF THE EARTH: NEW POEMS, 2003

SOURCES: About Alice Walker; "Alice Walker" by M. Muellero from Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 1; Anniina's Alice Walker Page

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