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Alice Walker

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English Literature

Alice Walker is an African-American author and poet born on 9th February 1944 in the rural town of Eatonton, Georgia in the United States. She is best known for her renowned novel, The Color Purple (1982).

Content warning: The following text discusses Alice Walker's life and literary works. Alice Walker is an African-American author whose works touch upon racial discrimination and domestic abuse. The inclusion of certain terms may be deemed offensive to some readers.

Alice Walker: biography

Alice Walker's upbringing

Alice Walker was born Alice Malsenior Walker to share-cropper parents. She later legally added ‘Tallulah Kate’ to her name in honour of her mother and paternal grandmother, so in 1994 her legal name became Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker. Walker had 7 siblings with whom she grew up.

The family grew up poor although her mother, Minnie Tallulah Grant, worked as a maid to support the family. When she was 8 years old, Walker was shot in the eye with a BB gun her brothers were playing with. Her eye was damaged and a visible mark was left.

Share-cropper: A farmer who rents a portion of land belonging to a landowner to grow crops. The landowner receives a portion of the crops grown.

Alice Walker's education

Walker excelled in educational pursuits. Walker went to high school during the era of racial segregation in the United States and as such, her high school in Eatonton, Georgia was attended by Black students exclusively. She became valedictorian of Butler Baker High School and obtained a scholarship to attend Spelman College in 1961.

Spelman College was one of the first historically black women’s colleges in the United States and is located in Atlanta, Georgia. Walker left Spelman College before graduating and opted to attend Sarah Lawrence College in New York, a liberal arts college, to finish her studies after obtaining a scholarship. She studied literature, Latin poetry and history.

Segregation: Racial segregation in the United States was the physical separation of facilities such as medical care, schools, and other areas of life including employment. This physical separation was based on race. It kept Black Americans separate from White Americans.

Alice Walker's activism

Alice Walker's social activism is a means for her to find freedom in self-expression and to help others do the same.

Alice Walker's involvement in the Civil Rights movement

Following her graduation from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965 after a successful few years there, Walker worked as a teacher and a social worker. When she was at Spelman College during the era of the Civil Rights movement (1950s and 1960s), Walker met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the key proponent of the movement, at the college. King Jr. inspired her to return to the South to be involved in Civil Rights activism in the region.

Notable instances of Walker’s Civil Rights activism are her involvement in the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi in the 1960s, and her involvement in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. As suggested by the name of the march, its purpose was to obtain economic and Civil Rights for Black Americans. At this march, Dr. King Jr, gave his well-known ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

Alice Walker and Womanism

Alice Walker coined the term ‘womanist’, which describes a woman of colour who is a feminist. Womanism takes into account intersectionality, so it considers how factors such as race and social class have an impact on women in a patriarchal society and how this affects their aim to achieve equality.

Alice Walker's involvement in the Israel-Palestinian conflict

In 2009, Walker was part of a group called Code Pink. The group was comprised of other female activists as they travelled to Gaza to provide aid for those in need during the Israel-Palestinian conflict and to talk with organisations active on the ground.

Alice Walker. Figures hoisting up flags of Israel and Palestine. StudySmarter.Figures hoisting up flags of Israel and Palestine, pixabay,com

Alice Walker: personal life

Alice Walker met Jewish civil rights lawyer Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal in 1965 and married him in 1967. The couple moved from New York to Jackson, Mississippi, and were the first legally married interracial couple in Mississippi (though they did not gain their marriage license in Mississippi, which only had its first marriage license for an interracial couple granted in 1970).

The Jim Crow laws were used to enforce racial segregation in Mississippi, and this affected every area of life, such as jobs, housing, marriage and even voting. Walker and Leventhal were often harassed by white people in the area and were threatened by the white supremacist terrorist group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

Ku Klux Klan (KKK): A far-right, white supremacist group originating and based in America, first founded in 1862. Their actions of hatred and discrimination are based on the belief that white people are superior to all other races. There are variations in their other values (some are anti-Catholic or anti-Communist), but the foundational belief in white supremacy remains.

Walker and Leventhal had one child together in 1969- their daughter Rebecca. The couple later divorced in 1976 and this was followed by Walker’s relocation to northern California. With her move to California, Walker established a publishing company named Wild Tree Press along with Robert L. Allen, a fellow writer, in 1984.

Jim Crow laws: Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in southern states in the United States.

Civil Rights movement: A social and political movement in the 1950s and 1960s that aimed to gain equal rights for Black Americans. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the outcome of successful protests, as it ended segregation in public spaces and banned discrimination based on race, religion, nationality and sex in the employment sector of the United States.

Alice Walker: books

Alice Walker is a well-renowned author of fiction and non-fiction works. These include the following:

The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970)

The Third Life of Grange Copeland is Alice Walker’s first published novel. Set in rural Georgia in the United States, it initially explores the life of the protagonist Grange Copeland, a poor share-cropper with poor life prospects as he is ridden with debt. Copeland abandons his family and tries to escape his debts by leaving for the northern states of America.

The novel overall comments on violence within economically poor Black communities and also violence and racism inflicted on them from external forces. Before being weighed down by the burdens of debt and the reality of being poor and Black in the South, Grange and his wife, Margaret, were optimistic about the life they could build together.

As the debts keep accruing, Grange becomes extremely violent towards Margaret and their son, Brownfield. Copeland begins to have sex with Josie, a prostitute, to his wife’s knowledge. In retaliation, Margaret has sex with white men, knowing it will anger Grange. When she becomes pregnant and delivers a mixed-race baby, Margaret ends the baby’s life and her own life, leaving Brownfield alone.

Despite his efforts to do otherwise, Brownfield grows up to end up in the same debt trap as his father, beats his wife to death, and is sentenced to prison, leaving their daughter, Ruth, behind. Grange Copeland’s ‘third life’ begins with his return to the South and he decides to look after his granddaughter, Ruth.

Copeland is committed to changing the patterns that resulted in him destroying his family and, indirectly, Brownfield’s imprisonment. He spoils Ruth and educates her and she eventually becomes involved in the Civil Rights movement. Grange kills Brownfield after he is released from prison and as he tries to assert his authority as Ruth’s father.

Meridian (1976)

Meridian follows the protagonist Meridian Hill, a college student in the American South in the 1960s and 70s. Meridian becomes involved in the Civil Rights movement. It is during this time that she begins to form an inconsistent relationship with Truman Held, another Civil Rights activist. She becomes pregnant but decides to have an abortion. After this, Truman wants to start a life with her more than ever.

As Truman eventually becomes involved with a white woman who is also an activist in the Civil Rights movement, Meridian focuses on remaining committed to the movement and devotes her time to that, gaining personal fulfilment, whilst Truman does not obtain the personal successes he wished for. The themes explored in this novel are activism, womanism, and personal struggle.

Alice Walker. Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., key proponent of the Civil Rights movement in America. StudySmarter.Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a key proponent of the Civil Rights movement in America, pixabay.com

The Color Purple (1982)

The Color Purple is Walker’s best-known work. Walker won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 for The Color Purple, and this made her the first Black woman to do so. The novel details the life experiences of the protagonist and first-person narrator, Celie, who is a young Black girl growing up in rural Georgia in the United States. Celie writes letters to God, then letters to her sister, Nellie, recounting the things that happen to her - from the abuse and violence she suffers at the hands of her step-father, Alphonso, and later her husband, Mister (Albert), to her friendship with the singer, Shug Avery.

The themes explored in The Color Purple are female friendships, violence and sexism, racism, God, religion and spirituality. It was banned from some school libraries in the United States from 1984 to 2010.

Challengers cited that the book had elements of sexual and social explicitness and unsavoury teachings on race relations, God, and sexuality. Celie achieves the independence and personal fulfilment she did not have previously, after refusing to stay with Mister and continuing to endure the violence.

The Color Purple was so popular that it was adapted into a film by world-renowned director Steven Spielberg in 1985.

Alice Walker. Close-up of purple flowers in a field. StudySmarter.Purple flowers. Celie is told it is only right to appreciate a field of purple flowers as it is a display of God's love, pixabay.com

Alice Walker’s fictional novel collection is comprised of:

  • To Hell With Dying (1988)
  • The Temple of My Familiar (1989)
  • Finding the Green Stone (1991)
  • Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992)
  • Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart (2004)
  • By the Light of My Father’s Smile (2005)
  • There Is A Flower At The Tip Of My Nose Smelling Me (2006)
  • Why War Is Never A Good Idea (2007)
  • Sweet People Are Everywhere (2021)

Alice Walker: non-fiction books

Alice Walker’s non-fictional books include:

In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)

This is a collection of writings and speeches composed between 1966 and 1982 that detail Walker’s exploration of what it is to be a womanist. Walker also explores the relationships women have with each other, from mother to sister to lover.

Sent By Earth: A Message from the Grandmother Spirit After the Bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon (2001)

In this text, Alice Walker focuses on the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, known as 9/11. Walker explores the feelings of anger, frustration and hatred as a consequence of the attacks.

Alice Walker. Two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. StudySmarter.World Trade Centre, New York, pixabay.com

We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For (2006)

This non-fictional work centres on the themes of compassion and forgiveness. Walker provokes readers to see their ability to be the drivers of positive change in their lives and in the world, despite the challenges that arise. Events such as war and natural disasters as used by Walker as a way to show how individuals can effect change for the better.

Alice Walker's other non-fictional works are:

  1. Langston Hughes, American Poet (1974)
  2. Living by the Word (1988)
  3. Warrior Marks (1993)
  4. The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult (1996)
  5. Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism (1997)
  6. Pema Chödrön and Alice Walker in Conversation (1999)
  1. Overcoming Speechlessness (2010)
  2. Chicken Chronicles, A Memoir (2011)
  3. The cushion in the road – Meditation and wandering as the whole world awakens to be in harm's way (2013)

Alice Walker: poems

Once (1968)

Once (1968) is Alice Walker’s first collection of poetry. The poems featured in this collection were written in East Africa in 1965, when Walker spent the summer there, or during her time at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. The themes explored in this poetry collection are the Civil Rights movement, exploring Africa as a Black American woman, and love.

Revolutionary Petunias (1976)

This collection of poetry has poems centred around Alice Walker’s thoughts and considerations about the Civil Rights movement. It also explores the parallel between revolution and love by showing how a loss of trust and a loss of compassion results in a loss of hope.

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1984)

Alice Walker’s Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1984) takes inspiration from the story of a Native American shaman’s thoughts on the terrible consequences of the colonisation of their land and how these ills were almost forgiven because the coloniser brought horses with them. Walker reflects on themes of war and pollution and how when in love, one may yearn to see the best in and forgive the one who oppresses them.

Alice Walker’s other poetry works are:

  • Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You In the Morning (1979)
  • Her Blue Body Everything We Know, Earthling Poems (1991)
  • Absolute Trust In The Goodness Of The Earth (2003)
  • A Poem Travelled Down My Arm, poetry and drawings (2003)
  • Hard Times Require Furious Dancing (2010)
  • The World Will Follow Joy; Turning Madness Into Flowers (2013)

Themes in Alice Walker’s works

The themes commonly explored in Alice Walker’s works are economic struggle, the Black family and culture, racism, violence, sexism, love, relationships between women, womanhood and social and political revolution. Walker most often explores these themes in the backdrop of rural southern states in America.

Violence and sexism

A girl child ain't safe in a family of men. But I never thought I'd have to fight in my own house. She let out her breath. I loves Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I'll kill him dead before I let him abuse me. -Sofia, Letter 21, The Color Purple (1982)

Sofia speaks to Celie, the protagonist, about how she did not expect to have to fight back against violence from her husband. Sofia acknowledges that girls and women in a family are not always protected by the men in that family. Yet, she had not expected this to be her experience as Harpo, her husband, had treated her lovingly before his father, Mister (Albert), said he had to assert his dominance over Sofia by beating her. This shows how violence and sexism can be intertwined.

Relationships amongst women/womanhood

What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers’ time? In our great-grandmothers’ day? It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood. -'In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens’ in In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)

In this essay, Walker discusses the trials and tribulations that generations of women have endured. Walker reflects on poet Jean Toomer’s poem ‘Avey’, where a prostitute is falling asleep as he speaks. Toomer sees how Black women have been used as the ‘mule of the world’, and as sexual objects and have had to take the position of being selfless to endure what they go through.

Love

I'm mad about the waste that happens when people who love each other can't even bring themselves to talk.- Suwelo, The Temple of My Familiar (1989)

Suwelo is one of many narrators in The Temple of My Familiar (1989), which explores the lives of multiple narrators. Suwelo is a Black professor who believes that the men in his generation have not fulfilled the expectations of women of his generation. This is his commentary on how he sees the romantic relationships between men and women of his generation.

Social and political revolution

Her senior thesis was based on the notion that no one should be allowed to own more land than could be worked in a day, by hand. -Meridian (1976)

This quote shows Meridian’s convictions in her studies and in her activism. Meridian is an activist who believes in dismantling the rich classes, where the wealth they accumulate is often at the expense of the poor.

Alice Walker today

Walker still writes novels, and poems and has a website where she shares information about her new literary works and political issues she is curious about. An activist to the core, Alice Walker remains supportive of anti-war political movements and offers political commentary via her website.

Enthusiasts of Walker's works can keep up-to-date with her current works, and her most recent poem to date is 'The Medicine Blow' (2022), which discusses Walker's perception of what it is to 'make medicine'- medicine for the body, medicine for the spirit.

Alice Walker - Key takeaways

    • Alice Walker is an African-American author and poet born on 9th February 1944 in the rural town of Eatonton, Georgia in the United States.
    • Alice Walker is best known for her novel, The Color Purple (1982).
    • Walker attended Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia in 1961 on a scholarship but decided to complete her studies at Sarah Lawrence College, New York. She graduated in 1965.
    • Walker is heavily involved in activism. She has participated in the Civil Rights movement, she coined the term 'womanist', and she was part of a group that provided aid to residents in need in 2009 in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
    • The themes commonly explored in Alice Walker’s works are economic struggle, the Black family and culture, racism, violence, sexism, love, relationships amongst women/womanhood and social and political revolution.

Alice Walker

Alice Walker is an African-American author and poet born on 9th February 1944 in the rural town of Eatonton, Georgia in the United States.  

Alice Walker is best known for her renowned novel, The Color Purple (1982).  

Fictional works

  • The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970) 
  • Meridian (1972) 
  • The Color Purple (1982) 
  • To Hell With Dying (1988) 
  • The Temple of My Familiar (1989)
  • Finding the Green Stone (1991) 
  • Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992)
  • Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart (2004) 
  • By the Light of My Father’s Smile (2005)
  • There Is A Flower At The Tip Of My Nose Smelling Me (2006)
  • Why War Is Never A Good Idea (2007)
  • Sweet People Are Everywhere (2021)


Non-fictional works

  • Langston Hughes, American Poet (1974) 
  • 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)
  • Pema Chödrön and Alice Walker in Conversation (1999)
  • Overcoming Speechlessness (2010)
  • Chicken Chronicles, A Memoir (2011)
  • The cushion in the road – Meditation and wandering as the whole world awakens to be in harm's way (2013)

Alice Walker decided to get involved in activism as she aimed to create a life where she could be free in her self-expression and so could others.  

When she was 8 years old, Walker was shot in the eye with a BB gun her brothers were playing with. Her eye was damaged and a visible mark was left.  

Final Alice Walker Quiz

Question

What are the genres in The Color Purple (1982)?

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Answer

The genres in The Color Purple (1982) are:

  • Novel

  • Epistolary novel

  • Domestic fiction

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Question

What is the main idea of the book The Color Purple (1982)?

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Answer

The main idea of The Color Purple (1982) explores growing up, overcoming oppression and abuse for Celie to find her independence and determine what will fulfil her in life.  

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Question

Why was The Color Purple (1982) book banned?


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Answer

Between 1984 and 2013, The Color Purple (1982) was banned from school libraries in the United States because it was argued to have graphic sexual content and situations of violence and abuse, which was inappropriate for school libraries. 

Show question

Question

What is the book The Color Purple (1982) about?


Show answer

Answer

The Color Purple (1982) is a fictional tale of the life of the protagonist and narrator, Celie, a poor, young black girl growing up in rural Georgia in the 1900s.  

Show question

Question

What is the main message of The Color Purple (1982)?


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Answer

The main message of the novel is a tale of how a young girl can grow up in a racist, patriarchal society and overcome these obstacles to eventually finds independence and fulfilment later in life. 

Show question

Question

What are the main themes in The Color Purple (1982)?

Show answer

Answer

The main themes in The Color Purple (1982) are:

  • Female Relationships
  • Violence and Sexism
  • Racism
  • God, Religion, Spirituality

Show question

Question

What is the structure and form of The Color Purple (1982)?

Show answer

Answer

The Color Purple (1982) has an epistolary structure as it is written as a series of letters- from Celie, addressed to God and later addressed to Nettie. It is written in first-person narrative.

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Question

What was the reception of The Color Purple (1982)?

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Answer

The Color Purple (1982) was a bestseller and its 1985 movie was directed by renowned director Steven Spielberg, with famous individuals making up part of the cast, such as Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg. The Color Purple (1982) was adapted for a 2005 Broadway musical.   

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Question

Who wrote The Color Purple (1982)?

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Answer

The Color Purple (1982) was written by author Alice Walker. 

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Question

Who are the characters in The Color Purple (1982)?

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Answer

The characters in The Color Purple (1982) are:

  • Celie
  • Nettie
  • Alphonso
  • Samuel and Corrine
  • Olivia and Adam
  • Sofia
  • Harpo
  • Squeak
  • Shug Avery
  • Mister (later known as 'Albert')

Show question

Question

What is the book The Color Purple (1982) about? 

Show answer

Answer

The Color Purple (1982) is a fictional tale of the life of the protagonist and narrator, Celie, a poor, young black girl growing up in rural Georgia in the 1900s.   

Show question

Question

What are the main themes in The Color Purple (1982)? 

Show answer

Answer

The main themes in The Color Purple (1982) are:

  • Female Relationships
  • Violence and Sexism
  • Racism
  • God, Religion, Spirituality

Show question

Question

What is the social background of The Color Purple (1982)?

Show answer

Answer

The Color Purple (1982) is set in the early 1900s. This was well after the abolition of slavery in 1865, and many black people who were formerly enslaved remained on the lands owned by former white enslavers to work as sharecroppers. It was a time of racial segregation and the Jim Crow laws. 

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Question

What are Jim Crow laws?

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Answer

Jim Crow laws were laws that enforced racial segregation specifically in southern states in the United States.  

Show question

Question

What is racial segregation?

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Answer

Racial segregation in the United States was the segregation (physical separation) of facilities and services such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation based on one’s race. It kept African-Americans separate from white Americans. 

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Question

Which educational institutes did Alice Walker attend?

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Answer

Alice Walker attended Butler Baker High School, Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College in New York. 

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Question

What influenced Walker to write The Color Purple (1982)?

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Answer

Walker was partly inspired to write The Color Purple (1982) after her sister told her a story of a love triangle that involved her grandfather. Walker was the eighth child of a sharecropper and a domestic worker.  

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Question

What is sexism?

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Answer

Sexism is prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.  

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Question

What is racism?

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Answer

Racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by an individual, community, or institution against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized. 

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Question

What is institutional racism?

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Answer

Institutional racism is discrimination or unequal treatment on the basis of membership of a particular ethnic group (typically one that is a minority or marginalized), arising from systems, structures, or expectations that have become established within an institution or organization. 

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Question

What are common themes in Alice Walker's works? 

Show answer

Answer

Common themes in Alice Walker's works are economic struggle, the Black family and culture, racism, violence, sexism, love, relationships amongst women/womanhood and social and political revolution.  

Show question

Question

Who is Alice Walker?  

Show answer

Answer

Alice Walker is an African-American author and poet born on 9th February 1944 in the rural town of Eatonton, Georgia in the United States. 

Show question

Question

What is Alice Walker known for?  


Show answer

Answer

Alice Walker is best known for her renowned novel, The Color Purple (1982). 

Show question

Question

What are the books written by Alice Walker?  


Show answer

Answer

Fictional works

The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970) 

Meridian (1972) 

The Color Purple (1982) 

To Hell With Dying (1988) 

The Temple of My Familiar (1989)

Finding the Green Stone (1991) 

Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992)

Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart (2004) 

By the Light of My Father’s Smile (2005)

There Is A Flower At The Tip Of My Nose Smelling Me (2006)

Why War Is Never A Good Idea (2007)

Sweet People Are Everywhere (2021)


Non-fictional works

Langston Hughes, American Poet (1974) 

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)

Pema Chödrön and Alice Walker in Conversation (1999)

Overcoming Speechlessness (2010)

Chicken Chronicles, A Memoir (2011)

The cushion in the road – Meditation and wandering as the whole world awakens to be in harm's way (2013)

Show question

Question

Why did Alice Walker become an activist?


Show answer

Answer

Alice Walker decided to get involved in activism as she aimed to create a life where she could be free in her self-expression and so could others.  

Show question

Question

What was Alice Walker's first novel?

Show answer

Answer

The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970).

Show question

Question

Which educational institutions did Alice Walker attend?

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Answer

  • Butler Baker High School
  • Spelman College (left before graduating)
  • Sarah Lawrence College (graduated 1965)

Show question

Question

What types of activism was Alice Walker involved in?

Show answer

Answer

Alice Walker was involved in the Civil Rights movement. She is also part of the womanist movement. Walker provided aid in 2009 for residents during the Israel-Palestinian conflict. 

Show question

Question

What is Alice Walker's feminist publishing company called and when was it established?

Show answer

Answer

Wild Tree Press was established in 1984.

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Question

What was Alice Walker's upbringing?

Show answer

Answer

Walker grew up poor. She was one of 8 children and her mother worked as a maid to support the family.

Show question

Question

Is The Color Purple (1982) a true story? 

Show answer

Answer

The novel is not a true story, but it is inspired by the story of a love triangle in Walker's grandfather's life.  

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