Author, civil rights activist, and women’s rights activist Alice Walker was born in Putnam County, Georgia in 1944. Born into a family of sharecroppers, she was the youngest of eight children. She grew up surrounded by oral tradition, hearing stories from her grandfather.
Her grandfather’s stories inspired her, at the young age of 8, to being writing the novel that would become The Color Purple. As she explained it, “with my family, I had to hide things. And I had to keep a lot in my mind.” Writing became a way for her to get some of these thoughts out. At the same age, she was shot with a BB pellet in her right eye while playing with her older brothers. This left her with a visible scar in her eye, making her self-conscious and turning her into a shy and timid girl.
Under the Jim Crow Laws in Georgia, Walker attended a segregated school. In her own words, “I grew up in the South under segregation. So, I know what terrorism feels like — when your father could be taken out in the middle of the night and lynched just because he didn’t look like he was in an obeying frame of mind when a white person said something he must do.”
Walker wrote her first book of poetry during her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College, where she graduated in 1965. By 1982, The Color Purple was published as her third novel and turned into a 1985 movie directed by Steven Speilberg, featuring influential women like Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg. Walker won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Color Purple.
Walker’s influence extends beyond her writing. She worked as a social worker, teacher, lecturer, and took part in Mississippi’s 1960s Civil Rights Movement. She also participated in the 1963 March on Washington. In 2003, Walker was arrested outside the White House with 26 others during the March 8th International Women’s Day. In an interview with Democracy Now, she said “I was with other women who believe that the women and children of Iraq are just as dear as the women and children in our families, and that, in fact, we are one family.”
Walker was the focus of a 2014 documentary Alice Walter: Beauty in Truth, part of the American Masters series. According to PBS, the films “showcase extraordinary women and girls who are changing the world.” Beauty in Truth “explores Walker’s relationship with her mother, poverty, and participation in the Civil Rights Movement, which were the formative influences on her consciousness and became the inherent themes in her writing.” (Watch the movie online: https://vimeo.com/136860538).
[Video: In 2013, The WOW Festival included the world exclusive premiere of Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth, a feature documentary film directed by Pratibha Parmar about the life and art of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple. After the screening, Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar took part in a Q & A.]
At the age of 73, Alice Walker continues to be an outspoken activist, using her history as a touchpoint for pushing back against current national issues.