Alice Walker wrote the novel The Color Purple (1982), which she won her the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. An avowed feminist, Walker coined the term “womanist” to mean “A black feminist or feminist of color”.
Born to sharecroppers in Georgia in 1944, Walker was eight-years-old when her brother shot her with a BB gun, leaving her blind in one eye. The doctor who treated her swindled her parents. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1965 and then went to Mississippi to work for the Civil Rights Movement. In 1967, on St. Patrick’s Day in New York City, she married liberal, white, Jewish lawyer, Mel Leventhal. They moved to Jackson, Mississippi and had a baby. The KKK made death threats against them. They divorced after nine years.
Male violence and exploitation of women are frequent themes in Walker’s 30 books of poems, stories, novels, and nonfiction. Women’s triumphs by forging strong, supportive relationships with one another, including lesbian love, is another frequent theme.
Steven Spielberg‘s adaptation of The Color Purple (1985) starring Whoopi Goldberg was mostly de-gayed, yet memorable for introducing Oprah Winfrey to the world as an actor. Though nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won none. This perceived snubbing ignited controversy because many filmgoers and critics considered it the best picture that year.
On December 1, 2005, a musical adaptation opened on Broadway produced by Quincy Jones, the delightful Harvey Weinstein, and Oprah. It ran for three years and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won one. An enthusiastically acclaimed Broadway revival opened in 2015 and ran through early 2017, winning two Tony Awards—including Best Revival of a Musical.
The novel endures, and it still incites: According to the American Library Association, it ranked 10th on the list of books most frequently sought to be banned from libraries.
Walker is an outspoken critic of social injustice who chooses to concentrate her energies on current topics other than queer issues and rarely discusses her same-sex relationships. In 2006, she finally spoke about dating Tracy Chapman, saying:
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.
Chapman released an album Telling Stories (2000) with cutting lyrics about fiction and lies:
Leave the pity and the blame
For the ones who do not speak
You write the words to get respect and compassion
And for posterity
You write the words and make believe
There is truth in the space between
There is fiction in the space between
You and everybody
Give us all what we need
Give us one more sad sordid story
But in the fiction of the space between
Sometimes a lie is the best thing
Sometimes a lie is the best thing
You think that’s tough, Walker’s daughter Rebecca Walker‘s feelings about her “self-absorbed” parents, who, after their divorce, shuttled her back and forth at two-year intervals between her father’s home in the largely Jewish Riverdale section of the Bronx and her mother’s largely African-American environment in San Francisco. Rebecca shared her anger in her highly praised memoir Black, White & Jewish (2002). Her godmother is her mother’s best friend, Gloria Steinem. Mother and daughter remain vividly estranged. Rebecca identifies as bisexual and dated the singer Meshell Ndegeocello.
Alice Walker’s Chicken Chronicles, A Memoir (2011) consists of 38 chapters, each addressed to one of her “girls”, which might sound tantalizing, except it is about the chickens on her Northern California farm. It touches on her activist work in Gaza for Peace and Justice, but of course avoids LGBTQ rights. The full title is: The Chicken Chronicles: Sitting With The Angels Who Have Returned With My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes Of God, The Gladyses, & Babe: A Memoir.