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Alice Walker

"I am bisexual. I just live my life. I don't think I have to phone in and tell everybody."  --Alice Walker from February 1996 edition of Essence

In full ALICE MALSENIOR WALKER (b. Feb. 9, 1944, Eatonton, Ga., U.S.), American writer whose novels, short stories, and poems were noted for their insightful treatment of black American culture. Her novels focused particularly on women, most notably The Color Purple (1982; film, 1985), which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983.

Her father's great-great-great grandmother Mary Poole was a slave forced to walk from Virginia to Georgia with a baby in each arm.  Her mother's grandmother Talluhah was mostly Cherokee Indian.  Alice is deeply proud of her cultural inheritances.

Walker was eighth and last child of Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker, who were sharecroppers.  When Alice Walker was eight years old, she lost sight of one eye when one of her older brothers shot her with a BB gun by accident.  In high school, Alice Walker was valedictorian of her class, and that achievement, coupled with a "rehabilitation scholarship" made it possible for her to go to Spelman, a college for black women in Atlanta, Georgia.  After spending two years at Spelman, she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and during her junior year traveled to Africa as an exchange student. She received her bachelor of arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965.

After finishing college, Walker lived for a short time in New York, then from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s, she lived in Tougaloo, Mississippi, during which time she had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1969.  Alice Walker was active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's, and today she is still an involved activist.  She has spoken for the women's movement, the anti-apartheid movement, for the anti-nuclear movement, and against female genital mutilation. 

In August 1963 Alice traveled to Washington D.C. to take part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Perched in a tree limb to try to get a view, Alice couldn't see much of the main podium, but was able to hear Dr. King's I Have A Dream address.

She also began teaching and publishing short stories and essays and her first book of poetry, Once (1968). Her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), traced a family's attempt to conquer a kind of emotional slavery that existed across three generations. In 1973 she published In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women and Revolutionary Petunias & Other Poems before moving to New York to complete Meridian (1976), a novel about a young woman in the civil-rights movement.

Walker later moved to California, where, in 1982, she wrote perhaps her most popular novel, The Color Purple. Written in epistolary form and in black English vernacular, the book depicted a black woman's struggle for racial and sexual equality.  She received the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for The Color Purple.

After releasing a collection of essays, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens (1983), and a collection of poetry, Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1984), she co-founded Wild Trees Press (1984-88). Her later novels included The Temple of My Familiar (1989) and Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992). Walker also wrote juvenile literature and critical essays on such women writers as Flannery O'Connor and Zora Neale Hurston.

In 1996 Alice published "The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult" in which she describes through essays and journal entries the loss of her beloved mother, the break-up of her 13-year relationship with Robert Allen, her own battle with lyme disease and depression, and her awakening sense of bi-sexuality. The book also contains Alice's own version of the screenplay to "The Color Purple" and many of her notes and remembrances from the making of her novel into film.

The next year Alice published another non-fiction title, "Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism", with more essays inspired by her ever-expanding political activism. From the civil rights movement to the anti-nuclear movement, the environmental movement, the women's movement (she continues as a contributing editor to Ms. Magazine), and most recently the movement to protect indigenous people, their cultures and natural environments, Alice remains an outspoken activist on issues of oppression and power; championing the victims of racism, sexism and military-industrialism and seeking to preserve our natural heritages.

In September 1998, Alice published "By the Light of My Father's Smile". Her first novel in six years, the book examines the connections between sexuality and spirituality. The multi-narrated story of several generations explores the relationships of fathers and daughters. As in previous fiction, Alice weaves back and forth through time and individual perspectives, her characters seeking redemption, forgiveness and peace. The book contains sexually explicit imagery and erotica and may not be appropriate for younger readers.

Among her numerous awards and honors are the Lillian Smith Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rosenthal Award from the National Institute of Arts & Letters, a nomination for the National Book Award, a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship, a Merrill Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Front Page Award for Best Magazine Criticism from the Newswoman's Club of New York. She also has received the Townsend Prize and a Lyndhurst Prize.

Alice is a vegetarian, gardener, world traveler and spiritual explorer. She lives in Mendocino, California with her dog, Marley.

Donna Haisty Winchell, Alice Walker (1992); Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and K.A. Appiah (eds.), Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present (1993).
Copyright © 1994-99 Encyclopędia Britannica, Inc.

Harris,Jessica. "An Interview with Alice Walker," Essence. July 1976, p.33.

Source:  http://www2.blackside.com/immaw/MediaInfo.asp?MediaID=9
Bio courtesy the Alice Walker-Womanist Writer website