| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Margaret Abigail Walker was born July 7, 1915, in
Birmingham, Alabama. She received her early education in New Orleans and
completed her undergraduate education at Northwestern University in Evanston,
Illinois, by the time she was nineteen years old. Although Walker had been
writing and publishing before moving to Chicago as a student, it was there that
her talent matured. A member of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Walker
shared intellectual, cultural, and professional interests with an important
group of artists and writers who formed the Southside Writers Group, led by
Richard Wright. Wright and Walker enjoyed a close friendship until he moved to
New York in the late 1930s. When Walker left Chicago for graduate school at the
University of Iowa in 1939, she was well on her way to becoming a major
1942, Walker completed the full manuscript of a volume she called For My
People, the title poem of which had been written and published in Chicago five
years earlier. For My People won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award
following its 1942 publication and brought her immediate recognition as the
first African American woman to achieve national literary prominence.
also began work on a historical novel based on her great grandmother, Elvira
Ware Dozier, a novel she would not finish until she returned to Iowa in the
1960s to complete her doctoral studies. Jubilee is the story of Vyry, whose
commitment to her own set of values sustains her during difficult times both as
a slave and later as a free woman. Walker’s revisionist account of the Civil
War and Reconstruction established a new tradition in southern American
most of her career, Walker lived in Jackson, Mississippi, where she taught
English for thirty years. Married to the Firnist James Alexander, Walker found
time between writing and teaching to mother four children as well as a host of
described herself as a “poet and dreamer who tried to make her life a poem,” a
statement suggestive of the many influences and traditions found in her
writing, the most notable of which is oratory. She works with sounds, rhythms,
and meanings that are drawn from an African American cultural framework and
that embrace classical mythology, Judeo-Christian humanism, and African
spirituality. With precision of language and sharpness of imagery, Walker
captures a wide range of feelings within Anglo-American and traditional African
American literary forms. The “I” which frequently appears in her poetry reveals
a collective voice reminiscent of Walt Whitman, yet it remains distinctive in
its lyrical cadences.
a writer-activist for the civil rights movement—which her writing helped to
fuel and which she acknowledged as a major source of her work—Walker was the
model for an entire generation of African American women writers, many of whose
careers she midwived into existence through her efforts as a public spokesperson,
literary sponsor, workshop leader, and conference organizer. Walker died in
1998 after a long illness.
University of Kansas
In the Heath Anthology
For My People
Ballad of the Hoppy-Toad
The Crystal Palace
Cook in the Big House
Richard Wright, Daemonic Genius: A Portrait of the Man, A Critical Look at His Work
How I Wrote Jubilee and Other Essays on Life and Literature
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Margaret Walker Alexander Research Center
Describes the Center's archival and analytical activities; some resources available through the site.
Mississippi Writers Page
A biographical sketch, several photographs, and a list of works.
Voices from the Gaps
Biography, selected bibliography, and links.
Hazel Carby, "Ideologies of Black Folk: The Historical Novel of Slavery," Slavery and the Literary Imagination, eds. Deborah E. McDowell and Arnold Rampersad, 1988
Jacqueline M. Carmichael, Trumpeting a Fiery Sound: History and Folklore In Margaret Walker's Jubilee, 1998
Barbara Christian, The Black Woman Novelist, 1980
Margaret Coel, The Ghost Walker, 1997
Eugenia Collier, Fields Watered with Blood: Myth and Ritual in the Poetry of Margaret Walker, " Black women Writers 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, ed. Mari Evans, 1984
Margaret Hamill, Light on the Widow's Walk, 2000
Eleanor Traylor, "Music as Theme: The Blues Mode in the Works of Margaret Walker,: ibid; Minrose Gwin, Black and White Women of the Old South: The Peculiar Sisterhood, 1985