Alice Walker: Pulitzer Prize Winner

Writer and Activist

Alice Walker 1989
Alice Walker 1989. Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

Alice Walker (February 9, 1944 - ) is known as a writer and activist.  She is the author of The Color Purple.  She is also known for recovering the work of Zora Neale Hurston and for her work against female circumcision.  She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983.

Background, Education, Marriage

Alice Walker, best known perhaps as the author of The Color Purple, was the eighth child of Georgia sharecroppers.

After a childhood accident blinded her in one eye, she went on to become valedictorian of her local school, and attend Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College on scholarships, graduating in 1965.

Alice Walker volunteered in the voter registration drives of the 1960s in Georgia and went to work after college in the Welfare Department in New York City.

Alice Walker married in 1967 (and divorced in 1976). Her first book of poems came out in 1968 and her first novel just after her daughter's birth in 1970.

Early Writing

Alice Walker's early poems, novels, and short stories dealt with themes familiar to readers of her later works: rape, violence, isolation, troubled relationships, multi-generational perspectives, sexism and racism.

The Color Purple

When The Color Purple came out in 1982, Walker became known to an even wider audience. Her Pulitzer Prize and the movie by Steven Spielberg brought both fame and controversy.

She was widely criticized for negative portrayals of men in The Color Purple, though many critics admitted that the movie presented more simplistic negative pictures than the book's more nuanced portrayals.

Activism and Writing

Walker also published a biography of the poet, Langston Hughes, and worked to recover and publicize the nearly-lost works of writer Zora Neale Hurston.

She's credited with introducing the word "womanist" for African American feminism.

In 1989 and 1992, in two books, The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy, Walker took on the issue of female circumcision in Africa, which brought further controversy: was Walker a cultural imperialist to criticize a different culture?

Her works are known for their portrayals of the African American woman's life. She depicts vividly the sexism, racism, and poverty that make that life often a struggle. But she also portrays as part of that life, the strengths of family, community, self-worth, and spirituality.

Many of her novels depict women in other periods of history than our own. Just as with non-fiction women's history writing, such portrayals give a sense of the differences and similarities of women's condition today and in that other time.

Alice Walker continues not only to write but to be active in environmental, feminist/womanist causes, and issues of economic justice.

Alice Walker Bibliography:

  • In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women. Alice Walker, Trade Paperback, 1974 (reprint).
  • I Love Myself When I Am Laughing...& Then Again When I Am Looking Mean & Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader. Zora Neale Hurston; Alice Walker, editor. Trade Paperback, 1979.
  • The Color Purple: Alice Walker. Trade Paperback, 1998 (originally 1982).
  • In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose: Alice Walker, Trade Paperback, 1984 (originally 1983).
  • Good Night, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning: Poems: Alice Walker, Trade Paperback, 1984.
  • Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful: Poems: Alice Walker, Trade Paperback, 1986.
  • Living by the Word: Selected Writings, 1973-1987: Alice Walker, Trade Paperback, 1989 (originally 1988).
  • The Temple of My Familiar: Alice Walker, Trade Paperback, 1997 (originally 1989).
  • Possessing the Secret of Joy: Alice Walker (editor: Bill Grose), Paperback, 1993 (originally 1992).
  • Alice Walker & Zora Neale Hurston: The Common Bond: Lillie P. Howard, Contributions in Afro-American & African Series #163 (1993)
  • Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems, 1965-1990 Complete: Alice Walker, Trade Paperback, 1993.
  • Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult: A Meditation on Life, Spirit, Art & the Making of the Film, The Color Purple, Ten Years Later: Alice Walker, 1997 (originally 1996).
  • Alice Walker Banned: The Banned Works: Alice Walker, edited and with commentary by Patricia Holt, Hardcover, 1996. Includes Walker's short stories "Roselily" and "Am I Blue?", plus the opening of The Color Purple, and raises questions of censorship.
  • Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism: Essays, Speeches, Statements and Letters. Alice Walker, Hardcover, 1997. Also Paperback.
  • By the Light of My Father's Smile: A Novel: Alice Walker, Trade Paperback, 1999.
  • Alice Walker: An Annotated Bibliography: Erma D. Banks and Keith Byerman, Hardcover, 1989.
  • Alice Walker: Harold Bloom, editor. Library Binding, January 1990. Critical essays on The Color Purple and other works by Alice Walker.