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Since Alice received much critical acclaim for her novel, Meridian the prestigious Guggenheim Foundation awarded her a grant in 1978. The grant was enough to live off of and help her to keep her focus solely on her writing. In the years after the heartache of her father's death in 1973 and her divorce in 1976, Alice decides to start work on a new novel. Alice came up with the idea of writing a story about two women who felt married to the same man. She also wanted to make her novel a historical one. But she had problems figuring out a plot. The plot line for her novel did not become clear for her until Alice took a walk with her sister, Ruth, into the woods. While there, they discussed about a love triangle who they both knew about. Suddenly the missing piece of her novel came together.
When the characters of her novel were beginning to form, Alice made plans to leave the house in New York she had bought less than three months earlier. Since it was her daughter, Rebecca's year to live with her father, Alice packed up her bags and flew alone to San Francisco, CA. When she arrived in San Francisco, she renewed her long-time friendship with Robert Allen, a man whom she met during her time at Spelman College and he was a student across the street at Morehouse College. He became her lover.
San Francisco was not a beneficial one for the growth of her characters. So Alice and her lover packed up their bags in search of a better environment. They moved to the city of Mendocino, a place in Northern California that reminded her characters of Georgia, where most of the setting of the novel would be taking place.
Money was extremely tight during this time. Her Guggenheim Fellowship was quickly running out. Although Alice earned money from speaking engagements on lecture circuits and had a $300 a month retainer as a contributing editor (long-distance) for Ms. Magazine, it barely covered her living expenses. However, in order for the characters to blossom, Alice decides to take a year of silence to write the novel. This meant she would not take on any new jobs or engagments. She would just think, enjoy life and write her novel.
She believed that it would take five years to write her novel. It only took less than a year complete.
The novel that Alice had written was called The Color Purple Alice had written the novel in an episolatory form. In other words, in the form of a letter Celie, the main character writes a series of letters about the abuse she endures under her mother's husband as a child, and her own husband as an adult. The book was written in what Alice termed as "Black Folks English." It was the kind of speech that wouldn't intimidate men and women, like her mother, whom she knew all her life. But her mother only read a few pages and never gets a chance to finish it. Her mother suffered a major stroke and as a result is never able to complete the novel her daughter had written.
Although she received a lot of praise for her novel, she received criticism from some in the African-American community who thought her novel portrayed black men in negative stereotypical fashion as abusers and rapists. Just like Zora Neale Hurston's critics during the Harlem Renaissance, some had not even read her book before offering attacks. Although she saw the critical attacks as being small-minded and ignorant, they still hurt none the less.
Because of her soaring popularity nationally, Alice was offered a teaching position at University of California at Berkley in the spring of 1982 which she accepted. In the fall she works at Brandeis University. Alice earned an American Book Award for The Color Purple. She was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for fiction which she went on to win in 1983. She became the first African-American novelist to win the Pulitzer Prize. Her book went on to become a bestseller. During this same year, Alice releases a series of essays,In Search of Our Mother's Garden's: Womanist Prose.
While lying prostrate on the ground in pagan worship of the Gaia or the Mother Earth, as she said that her Native American and African ancestors before her did, Alice was bitten simultaneously by three ticks. Alice had sustained tick bites all of her life and thought nothing of them. She did not know however, that these small bites would mark the beginning of another difficult period in her life. The ticks carried the debilitating Lyme Disease bacterium. A few days after the bites, she developed the signature red bull's eye marks on her stomach where the ticks bit her. Since little to nothing is known about Lyme Disease in the early 1980s by the general physicians,she does not realize that she has contracted it.
In 1984, Alice's next book of poetry Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful is published. It is a poetry book dedciated to preserving the environment and human beings. Around this time, along with her long-time lover Robert Allen, Alice start Wild Trees Press, a publishing company they dedicated to releasing the books they wanted to see in print.
Alice is approached by film directors Peter Guber and Jon Peters about buying the rights of her book to make into a film. Alice learns that Steven Spielberg would be producing the film but becomes even more so interested when she learns that Quincy Jones will help to write the score. She eventually accepts their offer to make The Color Purple into a into a movie. Warner Brothers pays Alice $350,000 for the rights.
Alice is hired as a consultant on the film. She writes a script for the movie, but it is not used. Whoopi Goldberg, an unknown comedian at the time, is hired to play the lead of Celie. Other illustrious members of the cast are Danny Glover and a then unknown Chicago talk show host named Oprah Winfrey who would go on to international superstardom.
During the making of the movie, the ravaging effects of Lyme Disease made Alice too tired to even move some days. She is forced to lean upon a walking stick. Because she is so worn out, Alice lied upon a couch in one of the trailors or under a tree performing tarot card readings for some of the cast and crew during the making of the movie. The cause of the disease itself was a mystery to herself. She also had to care for her mother who was still recovering from. She believed that she and her mother were dying.
During this time an independent film maker named Elena Featherstone makes a documentary chronicaling Alice's life during the making of the movie The Color Purple called Visions of the Spirit. Alice would come to see the movie, which would not be released until four years later after the release of the movie as a document of her life during the time of her illness.
The movie is premiered on January 18 in her hometown of Eatonton, GA. She returned to her hometown for the release of the film to a hero's welcome. Her sister starts a charitable foundation in her honor called "The Color Purple Foundation." When the movie is released, she has mixed feelings about the final product.
Like the release of the book, new critics harangued the movie's images as portraying negative messages of black men. Protests against the movie was held in front of the theatres showing the film. Many called her "traitor," "liar," and "whore," for the images portrayed in her movie. Alice was hurt by the criticism, but she continued to speak out. Later in a book of essays she would publish in 1996 called The Same River Twice, Alice said that she has quit trying to being attached to the image that other's have of her since it is an arena which she has very little control over. She also viewed the responses of criticism in this way. She stated that people who depend on the powerful are afraid of criticizing themselves because they are afraid that those in power might hear. They are afraid that this would cause them more pain because they would be held up to more censure and ridicule.
But in spite of the criticism, Alice, like her predecessor, Zora Neale Hurston before her, stuck to her views and continued to write and speak out.
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