Becca Anderson, author of The Book of Awesome Women, has written a new blog post on the life and career of legendary author Alice Walker.
Though she currently lives in California, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker has never forgotten her rural Georgian roots. “You look at old photographs of Southern blacks and you see it—a real determination and proof of a moral center that is absolutely bedrock to the land,” she once said. Certainly that strength, particularly in Southern Black women, is brilliantly displayed in her most famous novel, The Color Purple, which also draws on her memories of the landscape and language of the South.
Walker was born in 1944, the eighth child of poor sharecroppers in Eatonton, Georgia. Her mother encouraged her writing, even going so far as to buy her a typewriter, although she herself made less than twenty dollars a week. In 1967, after college, Walker married a white man, and the duo lived in Mississippi as the first legally married interracial couple in the state. Her marriage, she claims, had a negative effect on her career because it angered Black reviewers, who ignored her earlier works, including In Love and Trouble and Meridian.
It was her third novel, The Color Purple, that rocketed her to fame in 1983 (winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award) and embroiled her in controversy, particularly with the male members of the African American community, who claimed the work reinforced negative stereotypes about
Black men. The subsequent movie by Steven Spielberg in 1985 only fanned the flames of the imbroglio. However, women of all races strongly embraced the novel and identified with Celie, a fourteen-year-old girl who is repeatedly raped by the man she believes to be her father. The children of this union are adopted by a missionary family in Africa. The novel takes the form of letters between Celie and her sister Nettie, who works for the family that has adopted Celie’s children.
The literary heir of Zora Neale Hurston and Flannery O’Connor, the prolific “womanist,” as she calls herself, has penned novels, short stories, poetry, and essays—seventeen volumes in all so far. Each reveals her deep commitment to social justice, feminism, and particularly, African American women, as seen through her unique inner vision, a vision she has said she began to develop after she became blind in one eye when one of her brothers accidentally shot her with a BB gun. The loss of sight in one eye forced her inward, and she began to carefully observe the people around her. By writing, she has noted, “I’m really paying homage to the people I love, the people who are thought to be dumb and backward but who taught me to see beauty.”
She believes strongly in the power of art to help change the world and the artist’s responsibility to that power—ideas she expressed in her collection of essays, In Search of Our Mother’s Garden. In an audiotape entitled My Life as Myself, she spoke of her activism: “My way of fighting back is to understand [injustice] and then to create a work that expresses what I understand.”
I think there is hope in the South, not in the North.
Boundary Breakers, Freedom Fighters, Sheroes and Female Firsts
Sheroes. Women hold up half the sky and, most days, do even more of the heavy lifting including childbearing and child-rearing. All after a long day at the office. Women have always been strong, true sheroes, oftentimes unacknowledged. As we shake off the last traces of a major patriarchal hangover, women are coming into their own. In the 21st Century, all women can fully embrace their fiery fempower and celebrate their no-holds-barred individuality. It is time to acknowledge the successful women of the world.