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.

Selected Alice Walker Quotations

• Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

• The quietly pacifist peaceful
always die
to make room for men
who shout.

• It just seems clear to me that as long as we are all here, it's pretty clear that the struggle is to share the planet, rather than divide it.

• Being happy is not the only happiness.

• And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see -- or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.

• How simple a thing it seems to me that to know ourselves as we are, we must know our mothers names.

• In search of my mother's garden, I found my own.

• Ignorance, arrogance, and racism have bloomed as Superior Knowledge in all too many universities.

• No person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended.

• I think we have to own the fears that we have of each other, and then, in some practical way, some daily way, figure out how to see people differently than the way we were brought up to.

• (from The Color Purple) Tell the truth, have you ever found God in a church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I evr felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.

• (from The Color Purple) I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.

• Anybody can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week.

• The most important question in the world is, 'Why is the child crying?'

• In order to be able to live in America I must be unafraid to live anywhere in it, and I must be able to live in the fashion and with whom I choose.

• All partisan movements add to the fullness of our understanding of society as a whole. They never detract; or, in any case, one must not allow them to do so. Experience adds to experience.

• (on seeing Martin Luther King, Jr., speak on a newscast) His whole body, like his conscience, was at peace. At the moment I saw his resistance I knew I would never be able to live in this country without resisting everything that sought to disinherit me, and I would never be forced away from the land of my birth without a fight.

• (also on seeing newscasts of King) Seeing the footage of Dr. King getting arrested was definitely a turning point. He showe dme that black people were no longer going to be passive and just accept the inhumanity of segregation. He gave me hope.

• For in the end, freedom is a personal and lonely battle; and one faces down fears of today so that those of tomorrow might be engaged.

• The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.

• What the mind doesn't understand, it worships or fears.

• Nobody is as powerful as we make them out to be.

• The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.

• It is healthier, in any case, to write for the adults one's children will become than for the children one's "mature" critics often are.

• (on her childhood) I could never be happy away from my mother. I loved her so much my heart sometimes felt like it couldn't hold all that love.

• I suppose because I was the last child there was a special rapport between us and I was permitted a lot more freedom.

• Well, my mother was a quilter, and I remember many, many afternoons of my mother and the neighborhood women sitting on the porch around the quilting frame, quilting and talking, you know; getting up to stir something on the stove and coming back and sitting down.

• Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book, If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for.

• Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.

• Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.

• Don't wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you've got to make yourself.

• I try to teach my heart not to want things it can't have.

• Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.

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.