Alice Walker is an African-American novelist and poet; born in Eatonton, Ga. Her parents, Minnie Lou Grant and Willie Lee Walker, were both sharecroppers. She was raised in a shack minutes from Flannery O’Conner’s house, “Andalusia”. Blinded in one eye from an accidental gunshot wound at the young age of eight, Walker fell into somewhat of a depression.
She secluded herself from the other children, and as she explains, “I no longer felt like the little girl I was. I felt old, and because I felt I was unpleasant to look at, filled with shame. I retreated into solitude, and read stories and began to write poems.”
Walker later won a Spelman College scholarship for disabled students. Her involvement in various civil rights demonstrations led to her dismissal. She then won another scholarship at the progressive Sarah Lawrence College. In 1964 she traveled to Uganda, Africa where she studied as an exchange student. Upon her return in 1965, she received her B.A. degree.
She was then awarded a writing fellowship and was planning to spend it in Senegal, West Africa. Her plans changed, however, after working as a caseworker in the New York City welfare department. She, instead, decided to volunteer her time working at the voter registration drive in Mississippi in the summer of 1966, later claiming that her decision had been based on “the realization that I could never live happily in Africa-or anywhere else-until I could live freely in Mississippi”
In 1967, Walker married Mel Leventhal, a white activist civil rights lawyer, and one-year later Walker gave birth to their daughter Rebecca. It was not until she began teaching that her writing carrier began to take off. She started at Jackson State, then Tougaloo, and finally at Wellesley College. She was also a fellow at the Ratcliffe Institute from 1971 to 1973. In her last year there she published her first collection of stories, In Love & Trouble.
She uses her travel experience in Africa as well as her memories of the CIVIL-RIGHTS movement in an examination of the experiences of African Americans in the South. She was also influenced by a number of other prominent authors, including Flannery O’Conner and Zora Neale Hurston. She first became interested in O’Conner after visiting “Andalusia”, where her first reaction was hatred.
As Walker thought to herself upon arriving at O’Conners house, “What I felt at the moment of knocking is the fury that someone is paid to take care of her house, though no one lives in it, and that her house still, in fact, stands, while mine-which, of course, we never owned anyway-is slowly rotting into dust. Her house becomes-in an instant-the symbol of my own disinheritance, and for that instance I hate her guts” She was a big influence nonetheless, as Walker claims, “Flannery O’Conner has also influenced my work.
To me, she is the best of the white southern writers, including Faulkner. For one thing, she practiced economy. She also knew that the question of race was really just the first question on a long list. This is hard for just about everybody to accept, we’ve been trying to answer it for so long” Walker was also influenced by Zora Neale Hurston’s works.
Walker was quoted as saying; “My feeling is that Zora Neale Hurston is probably one of the most misunderstood, least appreciated writers of this century. Which is a pity. She is great. A writer of courage, and incredible humor, with poetry in every line.”
Note: (She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for her writing of the “Color Purple”.)