Walking on the Wind : Alice Walker Biography
On February 9, 1944, in the small middle state farming community of Eatonton, Ga Willie Lee and Minnie Grant Walker gave birth to their eighth and final child, a girl. Little did these sharecroppers know that their youngest daugther would become one of the most prolific, controversial and respected African-American novelists of the latter-half of the 20th Century.
Writer and poet, Alice Mansonier Walker has served as both a civil rights and women's rights activist. Walker has served as an inspiration by protesting against the boundaries that societies have implemented worldwide to impede the progress of women and minorities. Her shining example has been credited by writers such as Pearl Cleage, author of the book, "What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day." In 1998, on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Cleage credited Walker's writing as encouraging her to be braver in her writing and hold nothing back when it came to her artistic expression.
But the potential to profoundly influence others, may not have been seen in Walker as she grew up as a sharecropper's daughter in the southern agrarian community of Eatonton. Alice would have to overcome a number of difficulties which would help to influence her to become a writer.
In 1952, while playing a game of "Cowboys and Indians," at the age of eight years old, Alice was shot accidently in the eyeby her older brother with a BB pellet. A white scar formed in her eye impeding her vision. At the age of 14 she was taken to a doctor to have the tissue removed. The vision in her eye however, never returned.
During high school, she was valedictorian and was elected prom queen of her graudating class. In 1961 she enrolled at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. During her years at this college, Alice participated in civil rights demonstrations against legal segregation. In 1963, she received a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College in New York City where she transferred to in 1963. A year later, Alice packed up her bags to travel to the African continent, where she spent a year as an exhcange student in the country of Uganda.
After returning back to school, Alice discovered that she was pregnant during her senior year. Because she was so afraid to tell her parents, Alice considered committing suicide, sleeping with a razor blade tucked underneath her pillow for weeks. She wrote extensively during this time to deal with her feeling of anxiety. A few weeks later a friend helped her to get an abortion.
Alice made her debut into the literary world in 1967 whit the publication of her first short story, "To Hell with Dying," which was a book that helped her to deal with the anxiety and depression she felt even weeks after her pregnancy. Alice was hired as a consultant to the organization, the Black Studies Freinds of the Children of Mississippi, where she spent time collecting the oral histories of black women. During that same time she married her love, civil right attorney, Melvyn Levanthal. A year later she gave birth to their daughter, Rebecca.
After the birth of her child, Alice succeeded in completing and publishing her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland in 1970. She was later appointed a writer in residence at Mississippi College called Tougloo College in 1971.
During the mid-1970s, Walker published a series of award-winning short story collections and poetry books. In Love and In Trouble: Stories of Black Women received the Rosenthal Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems was nominated for a National Book Award and the winner of the Lillian Smith Award from the Southern Regional Council in 1973. After divorcing her husband in 1976, Alice published her second book Meridian.
In 1983, Alice won the American Book Award for her third novel, The Color Purple (1982), which went on to become a best-seller. For this novel, Alice became the first black woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Later during this same year, she published another book of non-fiction essays called In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens Womanist Prose. With her lover, Robert Allen, editor of the Black Scholar, Alice Walker went on to develop her own publishing company, Wild Trees Press in 1984.
A year later, producers Quincy Jones and Steven Spielberg approached Walker with the idea to produce her novel, The Color Purple into a movie. She was hired as a consultant for the movie. When the movie was released in December of that year, threre was a tremendous amount of backlash from some members of the African-American community because they perceived some of the potrayals of male characters as well as the themes of bisexuality in the movie as being negative. Although Alice Walker did not write the screen play adaption of the movie, the criticism she endured was stinging.
During this extremely difficult period, she contracted Lyme Diseases, which is an illness inhibiting neurolgic function caused by the bite of a tick. However, in spite of the debiliating pain caused by her disease and having to care for her ailing and dying mother, Alice Walker persevered and published two sequels to her third novel The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy, which investigated the phyisical and psychological ramifications of female genital circumcision. She also published several more books including a book of essays Living by the Word and Warrior Marks which also documented the implications of female genital circumcision.
Alice has also served as a contributing editor for the feminist periodical, Ms. Magazine and as served as an Associate Professor at Yale University and U.C. Berkeley. She has received numerous felloships from the Radcliffe Institue, Merril and Guggenheim Foundations. Her most recent book,By the Light of My Father's Smile, published in 1998, explores the spiritual dimensions of sexuality and the erotic.
Ms. Walker currently resides in Mendocino, California.