Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944. She is famously known as the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1982 for her work, The Color Purple. Born and raised in Georgia, Walker was a child of eight and whose family lived under the system of sharecropping. Her interest in reading and writing oddly enough came about when her right eye was damaged in an accident rendering her blind, and they became their outlet to cope. She eventually graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and made her first publication in 1968 with a book of poems, Once. Most of her works focus largely on the lives and culture of African Americans, specifically women.
The Third Life of Grange Copeland would be Walker’s first published novel in 1970. It’s a generational story of a family (also sharecroppers) and their hardships living in Georgia. The year 1976 would see the release of Meridian, a story in which the title character finds herself during a violent part of the Civil Right movement while attending college.
Everyone would come to know Walker’s name in 1982 with the publication of The Color Purple. It follows the unforgettable character of Cecile, an African American woman who is treated terribly first by her father and then husband. As she struggles from the lack of companionship and human decency from others as well as her situation as a whole in the rural South, Cecil still holds onto hope that she will one day find peace and love. As mentioned, it garnered a Pulitzer prize as well as the National Book Award for Fiction. Though the story was critically acclaimed, and is still praised to this day, it in fact remains a very controversial and challenged title. The American Library Association placed it at #17 on it’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books:1990-1999 and 2000-2009 and again on the 2010-2019 at #50. Its depictions of different forms of abuse, language, violence, and sexuality are what critics cite most, in addition to the criticism of the seemingly stereotypical behavior of African American men.
It only took two years later for the film version of the Color Purple to be released. With Steven Spielberg in the director’s seat, it starred Whoopi Goldberg in her breakout role, supported by other names like Donald Glover, Adolph Caesar, Margaret Avery, and Oprah Winfrey (in her first ever film appearance). Through different interviews at the time, it was revealed Walker was reluctant for her novel to receive an adaptation, as she feared Hollywood would poorly portray her African-American and women characters. But she was promised reassurances such as her own personal involvement in the film process and that at least 50% of the crew would be African-American and female (more can be read about this backstory on the American Film’s Institute’s Catalog Site). The movie received generally positive reviews and currently holds a 77% approval rate on Rotten Tomatoes. It unfortunately won no Oscars that year, but was nominated a whopping 10 times, the most prominent honors being Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. It also was nominated for 5 Golden Globes, with Goldberg grabbing the gold for Best Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama. Its Original Song, “Miss Celie’s Blues”, performed by Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, and Lionel Richie was also vastly popular and garnered its own set of various nominations. It can currently be streamed on HBO Max.
A musical adaptation of The Color Purple came out in 2004 and was co-produced by Oprah Winfrey. Earning eleven Tony nominations, it ran on Broadway between 2005 to 2008 and was revived in 2015. Furthering the legacy of this iconic tale, 2023 will see an adaptation of the musical into film, co-produced by Spielberg and Winfrey. Attached to the project are Fantasia, Danielle Brooks, Ciara, Colman Domingo, and Taraji P. Henson. Its projected release to theaters is December 20.
Now a household name, Walker would continue on with a lucrative writing career. Following this life-changing novel would be The Temple of My Familiar (1989), Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992), and Warrior Marks (1993). All follow her touching portrayals of racial struggles and real life issues women often come face to face with. A recent addition to this bibliography is Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart (2005). Walker also wrote several non-fiction titles and collections of poetry.
Honored as one of the great writers of the 20th Century, Walker has certainly made her mark on literature and the world as whole. She is considered a important figure in the Civil Rights movement (which she much involved in if you’d like to further research), and her works are praised for exposing the world to the struggles of her race and gender. And The Color Purple will certainly be forever remembered, as it still continues to be constantly adapted to be cherished and appreciated by newer audiences. You can find many of the titles mentioned above and others on Libby, Hoopla, and Kanopy as well as clicking on them below to see what library you can borrow them from. And don’t forget to wish this beloved author a Happy Birthday on February 9th!
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
― Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Written by Margaret Andracchi
Reference Librarian, Will Library
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