FEBRUARY 9: Alice Walker (1944-)

365daysoflesbians:

If you don’t have anything to read, may we suggest looking into Alice Walker?

Lex reviewed The Color Purple for us and now we’d like to introduce you a bit more to this groundbreaking book’s phenomenal author.

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Alice Walker, TEDxRamallah, 2011, photo by Lazar Simeonov

Walker was born in 1944 in Georgia and grew up in a South heavily structured by the brutal Jim Crow laws. Her father worked as a sharecropper and her mother as a maid; though they struggled to earn a living, though, they made sure that their children wouldn’t be exploited by the landlords. Alice’s mom enrolled her in first grade when Alice was four. The stories Alice grew up with at that time were to be the first material from which she derived her stories.

A shot from her brother’s BB gun left her blind in her right eye, and for years, the scar tissue that had formed over her eye contributed to her withdrawal and social isolation. However, at 14, the tissue was removed, and she would go on to become highly popular among her high school peers, obtaining the valedictorian and queen of the senior class positions. She perceived early on, though, that her blindness had left more attuned to things others could not readily see, or have the patience to notice.

After high school, Walker headed to Spelman College in Atlanta, where she studied under activist Howard Zinn and met Martin Luther King Jr, and then transferred to Sarah Lawrence. Then, she returned to the South and continued her lifelong dedication to activism that had begun in her college years. She married Melvyn Roseman Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer, in 1967 in NYC; when they relocated later on to Jackson, they became “the first legally married inter-racial couple in Mississippi” and as such were made the targets of racist harassment and threats. They had one daughter, Rebecca, born in 1969, and eventually divorced in 1976.

In the mid-1990s, Alice Walker was linked romantically to singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman, though the writer remained quite private about this, as she explained in a 2006 interview with Sara Wajid:

Why was it kept so quiet at the time? “It was quiet to you maybe but
that’s because you didn’t live in our area,” she answers with a throaty
laugh. She has written about the relationship in her journals, which she
plans to publish one day. So why did they decide against using their
relationship to make a big social impact like other celebrity lesbian
couples, such as Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche, have in the past? The
idea seems to amuse her. “I would never do that. My life is not to be
somebody else’s impact – you know what I mean? And it was delicious and
lovely and wonderful and I totally enjoyed it and I was completely in
love with her but it was not anybody’s business but ours.”

 

Alice Walker has remained a staunch activist and proponent of human rights in all their forms throughout the years. She coined the word “womanism” to inspire a movement that would center the needs of women of color, decrying the overwhelming whiteness of mainstream feminism; and she helped revive interest in and recognition for Zora Neale Hurston. She has also demonstrated strong support of Palestinians, condemning Israel as an apartheid state.

You can find a complete list of her books – novels, essays, poems, and much more – on her website. A 2013 documentary, Beauty in Truth, retraces Walker’s life; it was directed by Pratibha Parmar.

-AK