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Biography: Early Years
Alice Walker

Time Line

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  • 1944:  February 9, Alice Malsenior Walker is born to sharecroppers, Willie Lee and Minnie Tallulah  (Lou)  Grant Walker in the farming community of Eatonton, GA.
  • 1952:  At the age of eight, Alice is accidentally blinded by one of her brothers while playing a game of "Cowboys and Indians."
  • 1952-58:   Alice is ostracized as an outcast because of her scar. To deal with her feelings of loneliness, Alice begins to read and write poetry.
  • 1958:   At the age of fourteen, while visiting her brother Bill in Boston, Alice is taken to a hospital to have the cataract in her eye removed. She becomes confident and her life is transformed.
  • 1960:  Alice graduates as valedictorian from her high school class. She is voted most popular student of her graduating class and is elected queen of the prom.


BIOGRAPHICAL SUMMARY

Introduction


On Feburary 9, 1944, in the small farming community of Eatonton, GA, Willie Lee and Minnie Grant gave birth to their eighth and final child, a girl, they named Alice. Little did her parents know that their youngest daughter would become one of the most prolific, controversial and respected African-American novelists of the later-half of the 20th Century. But the potential in Willie Lee and Minnie Grant's baby may not have been recognized early on by others living in their farming community. Alice would have to overcome a number of difficulties in her lifetime that would profoundly influence the way she pictured herself and the world around her and would later help shape her views as a writer.



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The Accident


Alice Walker began her childhood in a crowded household with five of her older brothers. The house she lived in was a small and cramped hut with temeperature extremes that sometimes made life uncomfortable. During the Georgia summers filled with bright sunshine, it was very hot. During winters when the frosts would come, it was equally cold. And when it rained, the roof leaked.


Alice's father was a sharecropper who earned only $300 a year. Her mother was a domestic who sometimes earned extra money as a seamstress.

As a young child, Alice loved to explore the world around her. She said that one of her favorite pastimes in the world was "people watching." Even at a young age, she loved to closely observe a person's facial expressions. She enjoyed watching others' actions in relation to their neighbors in her community.


At the age of four, Alice began school. Because of her precociousness, Alice was advanced to the first grade. During this time, she was relatively outgoing and self-confident. Alice had a very good body image of herself and believed herself to be pretty, even at a young age. In her youth, she loved to get up in front of crowds of people, especially at church and recite speeches. Alice also described herself as a tomboy who enjoyed keeping up with two of her brothers who were two and four years older than she was. On Saturday afternoons, she, her mother, and her two older brothers went to the movies to spend time at the matinee watching Westerns.


At the age of eight, her rambunctious play as a tomboy suddenly came to an end however. While playing a game of "Cowboys and Indians," Alice was accidentally hit in her right eye by a BB pellet shot by one of her brothers. When her two older brothers saw that she was injured, they climbed up onto the tin garage covering where Alice had been lying on and helped her down in order to get help from their parents.


Because they were afraid of getting a whipping from their parents, Alice's brothers persuaded her to lie say that she had been struck in the eye with a protruding piece of wire. Alice's right eye quickly began to fill with blood. As she was lying down on her parents' porch, the last thing she remembers seeing of her eye was the trunk of a tree growing next to her house.


Because they did not realize what had truly taken place, Alice's parents did not take her to be seen by a doctor immediately. Instead they tried treating her injury at home. In the days following the accident however, Alice's injured eye became infected and she developed a fever. Her father placed lily leaves around her head to try to help bring the fever down. Her mother tried to keep Alice nourished with soup to help her recover. But Alice was too sick to eat and she didn't get better. In the end, they decide to take Alice to a local doctor in town.


When they arrived, the doctor admonished them and asked them why they waited so long to see him. As he treated Alice's infected eye, Alice's sight in her right eye probably wouldn't return. He also explained to them that since eyes are sympathetic, it was possible that Alice could lose sight in both her eyes. Luckily this doesn't happen, but Alice remained fearful for a long time that this would eventually happen. Slowly over time, the injury in her right eye calcified and healed. It developed into what Alice described as a "hideous white scar."


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