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Alice Walker in Blue


Page Three: Becoming a Writer


Alice Walker Biography Links:
[Early Life] [College Years] [Becoming a Writer] [Resurrecting Zora] [The Purple Years] [Later Works]

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BIOGRAPHICAL SUMMARY

Alice Walker Mug Shot


Literary Debut


After graduation, Alice spent the summer in Liberty County, Georgia where she helped to initiate the welfare rights movement. She 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 the relationships between Black men and women. 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 who was supportive of her writing and her love for nature.

Approximately year later, Alice was awarded a prize for an essay she wrote, "The Civil Rights Movement: Was It Good?" from The American Scholar which earned her a prize award of $300. She applied for a fellowship from the MacDowell Colony, which she accepted. She gave it up to wed Melvyn. They married on March 17, 1967 in New York.

Alice and her husband left New York City to return to live in the state of Mississippi. They became the first legally married interracial couple of the state. 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.

The conditions they lived in were extremely dangerous. Since there was still a great deal of racial prejudice in the state against African-Americans and because her husband was working adamantly in the courts to dismantle the laws barring desegregation, animosity against the couple ran high. While the couple lived in Mississippi, she and her husband would have to sleep with a gun under their beds late at night just for protection.
In Mississippi, Alice also had a job where she helped out once with voter registration. 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." The story, which was written during college was a based as a contradictory reaction to all of the negative feelings she had as a result of undergoing an abortion.

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Alice Walker in Green


First Novel

The late sixties were a time of turmoil. Many great leaders were being killed. America was also getting involved with the Vietnam Conflict around this time. Alice became pregnant during late 1967. Alice was working on her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, which she had started while on fellowship at the MacDowell Colony. Dr. Martin Luther King is assasinated. The upset of many of the great civil rights leaders in the country only added more stress. Alice lost the baby as a result. Once again she became pregnant. During this time she continued to pursue the writing of her novel. She completed the actual writing of the novel approximately three days before her daughter, Rebecca's birth in 1969. The novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland was published in 1970.

The novel centered around the effects of economic, political and social powerlessness upon the lives of Grange and Brownfield Copeland. Alice received criticism for her depiction of the African-American male characters in the book. The critics viewed the negative characterizations of the men as being exaggerated.

But Alice defended herself against her critics by saying that these are men that she has known. Since she has witnessed their behavior first-hand, Alice said that she would continue to write about them despite what her critics thought about her not portraying the "correct image" of African-American people in her work.

Alice became a writer in residence at Jackson State College from 1968-9. She moves to Tougaloo, Mississippi where she was hired as a writer in residence at Tougaloo College from 1970-71. Alice left the south in 1971 to accept a Radcliffe Institute fellowship
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Living by Grace: The Life and Times of Alice Walker
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