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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Alice Walker
(b. 1944)

Alice Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, the youngest of eight children of Minnie and Willie Lee Walker, black share-croppers. Her early life in the South was marked by the pressures of segregation and economic hardship on one hand, and the nurturing refuge of family, church, and black community on the other. Summer visits with her older brothers who had settled in the North gave Walker her first glimpses of the world beyond the rural South. Her poetry, often quite personal, and at times starkly intimate, in its themes of family connections, romantic passion, and political integrity, draws frequently on remembrances of childhood.

In 1961 Walker entered Spelman College, a black women’s school in Atlanta, Georgia. Finding Spelman too traditional, Walker transferred in 1963 to Sarah Lawrence College, a school noted for its avant-garde curriculum in the arts. There, under the tutelage of poet Muriel Rukeyser and others, she began her writing career.

After college, Walker worked briefly for the New York City Welfare Department and in 1967 married Mel Leventhal, a civil rights attorney. The couple moved to Mississippi, where he prosecuted school-desegregation cases and she taught at Jackson State College and also conducted adult education courses in black history. Their life in Mississippi as an interracial, activist couple was harrowing; they lived with constant threats of lethal violence against themselves and their infant daughter. During that time Walker published The Third Life of Grange Copeland, a novel of personal and political confrontation and transformation in the lives of three generations of a southern black family. A later novel, Meridian, explores the complex psychological burden borne throughout the rest of their lives by those young men and women, black and white, who came of age living and working at the center of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

In 1971, Walker accepted a fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she worked on poetry and short fiction, as well as on her landmark essay In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. In 1982, Walker published The Color Purple, an epistolary novel about the lives of two sisters, Celie and Nettie, raised in a rural, southern, black community and separated through years of tragedy, pain, struggle, and ultimate triumph. The novel was awarded both the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1983.

Alice Walker has been from the start of her career a prolific and diversified writer, adept at poetry, novels, short stories, and essays. Throughout her work, a central theme is the courage, resourcefulness, and creativity of black women of various ages, circumstances, and conditions. Whether in rescuing from oblivion the writing and reputation of novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, or in producing her own portraits unique in American letters of black women whose rich and complex lives have been little known and frequently devalued, Alice Walker continues to be a central figure in reshaping and expanding the canon of American literature.

Marilyn Richardson

In the Heath Anthology
Nineteen Fifty-Five (1981)

Other Works
Once (poems) (1968)
The Third Life of Grange Copeland (novel) (1970)
In Love & Trouble (short stories) (1973)
Revolutionary Petunias (poems) (1973)
Langston Hughes, American Poet (biography for young people) (1974)
Meridian (novel) (1976)
Goodnight, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning (poems) (1979)
I Love Myself When I Am Laughing . . . And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean And Impressive, A Zora Neale Hurston Reader (editor) (1979)
You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (short stories) (1981)
The Color Purple (novel) (1982)
In Search Of Our Mothers' Gardens (essays) (1983)
Horses Make A Landscape Look More Beautiful (poems) (1984)
The Temple of My Familiar (1989)
Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992)

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Alice Walker
Summaries of four Walker texts.

Anniina's Alice Walker Page
Provides a biography and a multitude of relevant links.'s Lit Chat
An interview with Walker.

Voices from the Gaps
Criticism, biography, list of works, and links.

Women Make Movies
Information about Elena Featherston's film about Alice Walker.

Secondary Sources