Alice Walker: The Temple of My Familiar
“It all starts with wanting to understand something, whether it’s a person or just an event.”
Alice Walker’s phrase about the production of her novels sets the tone of her literature: her work seeks to examine and understand the past and the North American black community’s ailments.
As the writer, Alice Walker has been engaged in political initiatives since the 1960s. She has been noted for the vivid portrayal of black women’s daily lives and the complexity of human relationships that accompanies this perspective.
Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in the small rural community of Eatonton, in the state of Georgia, in the southern United States.
She was the youngest of eight siblings, the offspring of a couple who earned their living through rural partnership (or sharecropping), which, in the post-civil war context for black Americans, was in practice a continuation of slavery.
Growing up in the Deep South
Despite the difficulties, Alice’s mother, who to help increase her miserable salary was also a seamstress, envisioned a better future for her daughter. Therefore, she prevented the youngest from following the elders’ rural jobs, enrolling her in a school at the age of four.
It is improbable that Alice Walker, until then an extroverted child, would have followed the path she did if a tragic childhood accident had not occurred to her.
At the age of eight, playing with two of her older brothers, she was hit by a lead bullet that cost her the sight of an eye and severely damaged her self-esteem. She then withdrew from ordinary childhood activities, finding refuge in books and writing poetry.
Alice had no quiet spaces for reading and writing. She was immersed in an environment where ten people circulated. She spent much of her time working on her literature outside her home, often finding the tranquility she needed under a tree.
The Surgery to remove the scar from her eye years later contributed to Alice becoming a confident young woman again. Literature had already left an indelible mark.
In the racially segregated schools in which she studied, she was a prominent student. Even today, she mentions teachers who encouraged her to imagine and seek a better future with her own strength.
If resources were lacking, what remained in Alice Walker’s childhood was her community’s support, which left her the way to go after a different destination. Above all, it was her mother who encouraged her to become a writer from an early age.
In 1961, Alice Walker received a scholarship to study at Spelman College, then a college for black women in Atlanta. During her time in the city, she was active in the fight for civil rights, closely following the insurrection of figures such as John Lewis and Julian Bond against segregation in the country. Later, witnessing the Washington March, where Martin Luther King proclaimed the famous speech, I dream.
Dissatisfied with Spelman’s political stance, Alice Walker left. Later she said she believed that Spelman’s would prefer instead to train well-behaved and non-critical women than to encourage activism. Walker went to New York State, where he received another scholarship at Sarah Lawrence College. This liberal arts institution provided a student exchange in Uganda in 1964.
In the same period, a drama shook Walker: the writer had to undergo an abortion. This episode put her in a deep depression. Her only refuge was, again, writing. The author wrote poems as a way to appease her anxiety and pain. Some of her drafts ended up in the hands of a teacher, who, impressed, took the project forward. Part of these poems was the basis for her first publication, “Once” (1968).
Walker briefly returned to Georgia after graduation to assist in the civil rights movement. He traveled to the most remote areas and went from door to door, offering the registration of votes to black and poor people.
Witnessing the impact of poverty on the relationship between blacks and black women was essential for consolidating her convictions. That work continued when she left for Mississippi, years later, where she married Jewish lawyer Melvyn Leventhal. She separated in 1976.
The state’s first interracial couple, the two had to overcome difficulties and death threats. Despite the intimidation, nothing was enough to silence them. Mel continued to struggle against segregation in schools, and Alice and registering voters was also a teacher.
In 1969, she gave birth to her only daughter, Rebecca, and completed her first novel, Grange Copeland’s Third Life (1970).
Since that first publication, Walker has released extensive work, persistent in its combative tone and in defense of black women’s experiences. Her relentless activist side has also guaranteed her success as an essayist and poet.
Among all her books, her essays, non-fiction, novels, collections of poems, and tales, which she continues to publish today, we say that her most famous work is The Color Purple (1982). The Book was a winner of the National Book Award, and the Pulitzer for fiction made it the first black woman to receive this award.
The Book received a film adaptation in 1985, directed by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey’s performances, Danny Glover and Whoopi Goldberg.
Narrated by the protagonist Celie, The Color Purple traces the trajectory of a young woman who, starting from a traumatic and violent childhood, goes through an inner awakening. With the help of other women, she finally understands herself as desirable, healthy, and independent.
In the Book, Celie, the character, writes letters to God and the missing sister. In her writings, Walker represents the almost illiterate southern black woman. A woman who lives in a harsh reality of poverty, oppression, and lovelessness.
The author also wrote the book “Of Love and Trouble,” a work composed of the voices of several black women from the southern United States.
Walker has always been an activist for African Americans and African American women’s rights, standing out in the fight against apartheid and against female genital mutilation in African countries.
In 1984, she founded her own publisher, Wild Trees Press.