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Alice Walker: A Life


Alice Walker: A Life

Alice Walker's life has been one of extreme contrasts. A descendant
of slaves, Alice is an outspoken advocate of freedom and civil
rights for all. The daughter of uneducated sharecroppers, Alice
graduated from prestigious Sarah Lawrence College. The youngest of
eight children, Alice is the mother of one child. Although Alice
grew up in a shack in rural Georgia, she now owns real estate in
Northern California.

Early on, Alice's mother recognized her youngest child's
precociousness and enrolled her in school at age four. Alice loved
to read and write down her thoughts on paper at a young age, and
was a gifted student. At the age of eight, though, a BB gun
accident destroyed the vision in her right eye. The injury was both
painful and traumatizing. Six years later she underwent surgery to
remove the disfiguring scar tissue, but the emotional trauma she
experienced because of that injury remained with her a long

Alice was class valedictorian and received a scholarship to
all-female, all-black Spelman College. After five semesters in what
she felt was an oppressive environment at Spelman, she transferred
to liberal Sarah Lawrence College, graduating in early 1966. She
worked briefly as a welfare caseworker in New York City but was
drawn to the civil rights movement, so she moved to Mississippi to
work for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She worked
for voters' rights, taking depositions from poor blacks who were
evicted for attempting to register to vote, and found a soulmate in
Mel Leventhal, a white lawyer who also worked tirelessly for the
civil rights movement. In 1967 they married.

Many well-connected people mentored Alice as she worked tirelessly
to produce poetry, essays, and works of fiction. She was first
published in 1968. The following year she gave birth to a daughter,
Rebecca. As a young mother Alice struggled at times to remain
focused on her writing. She held various positions as
writer-in-residence and created and taught a course in black women
writers at Wellesley College. Eventually she and Mel drifted apart
and their nine-year marriage ended in divorce.

Though her personal life was sometimes in shambles, her
professional life flourished. Alice was an editor at Ms.
magazine, a writing fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, and
continued to write prolifically and be published. Over the years
Alice has created a huge body of work. She will always be
remembered for her novel THE COLOR PURPLE, which brought her fame
along with notoriety, financial success, and the Pulitzer Prize for
fiction. In 1985 a movie based on her book was released. Though it
garnered 11 Oscar nominations it received no awards. Hailed by many
for its main theme of redemptive love, the book and movie also
received severe criticism for their depiction of physical abuse and

Whether or not readers consider Alice ahead of her time,
out-of-step with the times, or right on target will depend on their
perspective and philosophy. Alice firmly believes that ancestral
spirits continue to guide her writing, and it is for those
ancestors alone that Alice, now sixty years old, continues to


Reviewed by Carole Turner on December 22, 2010

Alice Walker: A Life
by Evelyn C. White

  • Publication Date: September 30, 2004
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 538 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393058913
  • ISBN-13: 9780393058918