Alice Walker [pictured], essayist, poet, novelist, activist and medium.

Born in Eatonton Georgia, on February the 9th, 1944, just before the end of World War Two, Alice Malsenior Walker was the eighth of eight children to Minnie Tallulah Grant Walker and Winnie Lee Walker.

Walker was a confident girl until 1952, when a freak accident involving a BB gun left her blinded her in one eye. Although her older brother, who shot her during a heated game of Cowboys and Indians, offered to pay for an operation to correct the impairment, Walker would never fully recover the sight of her right eye. From then on, she became secluded and reserved, she dreamed of suicide, but at the same time found solace in writing – poetry, short stories – and became an observer rather than a participator in everyday life.

Despite the damage to her eye, and the life she led as a hermit in the years that followed, Walker graduated high school and left for Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia in 1961. On leaving, her mother gave her three special gifts: a suitcase for travelling the world, a typewriter for creativity, and a sewing machine for self-sufficiency.

In 1963, Walker left Spelman for Sarah Lawrence College, a place housing only a handful of African American people, most of them men. This was not before participating in many civil rights demonstrations and meeting Martin Luther King at his home in recognition of her invitation to the Youth World Peace Festival in Finland.

1964 was the turning point for Ms. Alice Walker. Realising that she was pregnant she contemplated suicide and slept with her razor under her pillow for three nights. During the same week, Walker again turned to writing as a natural outlet for her distress. She stopped writing only to eat and sleep. Thankfully, through the help of a friend, Walker was able to attain a safe abortion.

The end product of weeks of anguish was, among other things, a story entitled To Hell with Dying and with the help of teacher Muriel Ruykeyser this was published in 1965.

Moving to New York City in November of the same year Walker worked for the welfare system. She soon moved back however and in 1966 fell in love with civil rights lawyer Melvyn Laventhal. They married the following year, despite pressure from neighbouring citizens over their inter-racial marriage, the only one in Mississippi, where Mel and Alice Laventhal were to live.

In the same year that Martin Luther King died for the civil rights movement Alice Laventhal became pregnant but lost it due to complications. In her desperation she wrote and published Once, her first book, in 1968. The poet again became pregnant and in the same week as The Third Life of Grange Copeland was published – her novel about three generations of domestic violence – daughter Rebecca was born.

From there, she took a position as writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College and then in 1972 became a teacher at Wellesley College, and began one of the first "Gender Studies" classes in the nation. In searching for course material Walker came across the work of Zora Neale Hurston and the inspired Alice Laventhal began writing and has never stopped since.

In 1973 she published In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women and her second book of poetry Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems. She then wrote and published a children’s book Langston Hughes; American Poet and briefly became editor of Feminist publication Ms. magazine.

Soon after Walker was to split with her husband. She retained her maiden name, falling in love with fellow editor Robert Allen – of Black Scholar – and published Meridian to universal acclaim. Walker’s next project was another book of short stories: You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down, which only received a lukewarm response.

Nothing however prepared the critics for Alice Walker’s Pulitizer Prize winning novel The Color Purple. The story chronicles the life of a black African American girl called Celie, growing up in the Deep South. The novel was later made into a feature-length motion picture, directed by Steven Spielberg and in turn shot Alice Walker to overnight literary success. The novel was severely criticised however, mostly for its representation of the character of Mr. _______, Celie’s husband, who some saw to symbolise the whole of the black male race – wife beating, stubborn and by the end foolish and incompetent.

In response Walker published her autobiography In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens in 1983 and her attitudes towards the female circumcision rituals in Africa led her to co-produce the shocking documentary Warrior Marks with Pratibha Parmar.

She followed the book up with two volumes of poetry called Horses Make A Landscape More Beautiful and Goodnight Willie Lee I’ll See You in the Morning. Her second book of essays entitled Living by the Word and her epic novel The Temple of My Familiar followed in 1988 and 1989 respectively. Yet another novel and children’s story followed this, but it was not until Walker’s fifth novel Possessing the Secret of Joy was published in 1992 did Walker regain perhaps some of the credibility she had lost after the annexing of The Color Purple ten years earlier. Possessing . . . is "not a sequel" as Walker would have us believe but follows on from her third novel featuring the characters Tashi and Adam, both of which made brief appearances in The Color Purple.

During her battle with Lymes Disease, Walker wrote The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult and a collection of political essays named Anything We Love Can Be Saved: a Writer’s Activism. Within three years she has written a further three books, By the Light of My Father’s Smile [1998], The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart [2000] and A Long Walk of Freedom [2001]. In light of the recent tragedy at the World Trade Centre in New York City, her newest work is called, Sent by Earth: A Message from the Grandmother Spirit After the Bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Written by Matthew Kane [2001]

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