Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia on February 9, 1944. Her parents were sharecroppers and dairy farmers, and they struggled to provide the best life possible for their eight children. In the rural south, the family still lived under Jim Crow Laws and had to fight with their landlord to allow their children to attend school instead of working the fields. Alice’s mother enrolled her daughter in the first grade at four years old.
In 1961, Alice was awarded a full scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta, where she met Martin Luther King Jr. and Howard Zinn, and was inspired to become an active participant in the Civil rights movement. She later transferred to Sarah Lawrence College near New York City and graduated in 1965 with a B.A.. After that, she returned to the American South to campaign for voter registration and welfare rights. While a senior at Sarah Lawrence, Alice Walker wrote her first book of poetry, but did not write while working in the civil rights movement.
Walker met Melvyn Roseman Leventhal, a Jewish lawyer for civil rights, in 1965. She and Melvyn were married in March 1967 in New York City and later the same year moved to Mississippi. They were the first legally married interracial couple in that state, which brought them plenty of harassment and even death threats from the Ku Klux Klan. Their daughter, Rebecca, was born in 1969. Alice Walker and Melvyn ended their relationship in 1979.
Ms. magazine hired Walker as an editor in the late 1970’s, and she relocated to northern California. While writing there, she published an article that told of the 1973 quest that she and Charlotte Hunt undertook to find the unmarked grave of author Zora Neale Hurston in Fort Pierce, Florida. They purchased a marker stone for the author who was an inspiration to them both. That article greatly renewed the public interest in Zora Neale Hurston and her works.
Since then, Walker has published short story collections, essays, and poetry. The writings of Alice Walker tend to focus on feminism, racism against blacks, and are drawn from some of her own experiences.
Walker’s first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, was published in 1970. Six years later her second novel was published. Meridian tells a tale of a young activist worker in the South during the civil rights movement.
The Color Purple was published in 1982. The intense story about an abused, unattractive young black woman who manages to fight her way through a racist and patriarchal society was an absolute bestseller. The story has since been adapted into an award-winning movie as well as a Broadway musical. Many of the characters from The Color Purple appear in her later novels, The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy.
Walker has continued to publish essays, lectures, poetry, and short stories while maintaining an active face on the anti-war front.
In 2007, she donated over 120 boxes of her manuscripts, personal correspondence and archived writings to Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.
— Alice Walker