This International Women’s Day, we are spotlighting one of our favourite authors and activists: Alice Walker.
Poet, novelist, short story writer and activist, Alice Walker is known for her works including The Color Purple, and for coining the term ‘womanist’ (a black feminist or feminist of colour).
Born the youngest of eight children to a family in a rural farming town in Georgia during the Jim Crow South era, Walker, unfortunately, suffered from becoming permanently blind in one eye, which actually catalysed her career as a reader and writer, which she’s described in her essay Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self. She attended the only high school available to black people (in an area and era of segregation), before university, where, Walker went through a then-illegal abortion, and suffered from mental health problems and suicidal thoughts which inspired some of the poetry of her first collection, Once.
Working for the New York City Department of Welfare as well as for the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Walker began her career in activism, also working as a consultant in black history to the Friends of the Children of Mississippi Head Start program. During this time, she began to publish her first few novels, including The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Walker also taught a course at the University of Massachusetts Boston in Black Women’s Writers, and became an editor of the renowned Ms. Magazine in 1973. Shortly after, Walker published Meridian, a novel about activist workers reflecting some of her own experiences, and what’s now considered her best work: The Color Purple.
Walker’s novels, poems and short stories have all shared her experiences and thoughts on the lives of Black women in American communities, as well as voiced taboos including violence within black families, female genital mutilation and love between women. These works have earned her the title of being the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer fiction prize.
Whilst we celebrate walker and her journey today, in 2003 on International Women’s Day, also the eve of the Iraq War, Walker and 26 other activists were arrested at a protest outside the White House, which she later shared in her essay We Are the One We Have Been Waiting For. Alongside this, she has protested the South African apartheid as well as the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as she continues her legacy of activism for civil rights and freedom.
L-R: Alice Walker, The Colour Purple, Quote illustration from Sandie Sonke