Born in 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia a southern town, Alice Walker hasexperienced the life that many African Americans led at the time. Sheis one of the most celebrated and accomplished essayist, novelist,poet, and feminist African American writers working today. In herhometown many black people were employed to perform difficult jobs oftenant farming. Her writing chiefly reflects on the lifestyles andthe roots of her people, and the town where the black vernacular waswidely used and the slavery stamp and oppression were still present.In her life she has worked as a teacher, lecturer and social worker.Alice was the eighth and youngest daughter of her parents who weresharecroppers (Epps 54). She led a life of poverty, as mother workedas a maid while her father toiled in a White farm. At the age ofeight, Walker suffered a severe injury while playing with two of herbrothers as one of them shot a BB gun pellet and blinded her righteye. Most of her work elaborates about the struggles and conditionsof African Americans before and during the civil rights movement(Horsely). As reflected by her works like “Once” poetrycollection and “Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self” amongothers, Walker exhibits to readers the effects of external forcessuch as cultural differences, race, family dynamics, and social classinfluence the sense of self-worth and perceptions of an individual.
Growing up during the Jim Crow policies, her parents defied landlordsthat expected black sharecropper’s children to work in the field ata young age and sent their children to school even in their meagerincome. When her eye injury happened, she was not taken to thehospital in time as her parents did not own a car. As a result, shewas not rushed to the hospital immediately, but was taken fortreatment a week later ((Fitzgerald 76). Thus, by the time thephysician treated her, the eye had become permanently blind. Soon alayer of scar tissue appeared on the affected eye, and in theprocess, impacting negatively on her confidence and social life. Shebecame painfully shy and self-conscious and as a result, she feltalone like an outcast and sought solace in writing poetry andreading. The scar tissue was eradicated when she was fourteen.
She graduated high school as a valedictorian, class queen, and mostpopular girl (Horsely). She recognized that the traumatic experienceof her eye injury had some benefits as it permitted her to startobserving, understanding, studying and noticing people, things, andrelationship keenly. It taught her to develop patience and care aboutthings that most people would rarely have time to pursue. She securedscholarships to study at Spelman College and later at Sarah LawrenceCollege before graduating in 1965.
Walker is a prolific author of essays, poetry, novels and shortstories. Her most notable work is the novel “The Color Purple”,which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as the NationalBook Award. She was the first African American woman to acquire theseaccolades. “Once” (1968) is the first volume of Walker’s poemcollection. The poems in the volume are based on the writer’sexperiences during the Civil Rights Movement, as well as her trips toAfrica. The collection also involves meditations on suicide,confusion, isolation, and love (Horsely). Hence, the “Once”collection is based on a painful period of her life, particularlywhen she was joining college and dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.Her poems also encourage people to find fulfillment in simple thingssuch as nature and family as opposed to power and money. Forinstance, in “We Alone”, she writes that people should learn tovalue things that matter like the enjoyment of nature instead ofwealth and power (Walker line 12-14).
Moreover, in her essay “Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self”,Walker offers readers a detailed narration oh her childhood, theaccident that disfigured her, and other changes in her life. Theessay further provides insights to external powerful forces thataffect people in her society particularly African Americans. Sheelaborates about factors like social class, racial discrimination andtheir effects on black people prior and during the Civil RightsMovement (Walker 47).
Civil Rights Activist
Walker’s works mostly reflect on the Civil Rights Movement and theconditions that African Americans faced particular women. In the1960s, Walker was actively engaged in the civil rights movement andeven currently she is an activist (Clark). She was married to aJewish civil right lawyer, and her conjugal life attracted threatsand harassment from white groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan because itwas the first interracial marriage in Mississippi. In the South, shewas also actively involved in voter registration campaigns,children’s programs and welfare drives among others (Fitzgerald71). Her activist works include advocating for anti-apartheidmovement, women’s lobby group, opposition against female genitalmutilation, and anti-nuclear movement among others.
Women’s Rights Activist
In her contribution to women’s rights, Walker coined the “Womanist”term to highlight the idealistic position on the subject of gender.She describes a Womanist as being different from a feminist.According to Walker, a Womanist is a person that appreciates theculture, personality, strengths, and emotions of women. Many of herworks have a black woman as the central character to depict theexperiences that women encounter in their lives (Epps 57). In aninterview with a Guardian magazine writer, she reveals that she likesteaching other women to be aware of their rights (Clark). In herworks, she criticizes sexism and racism and praises the power andstrength of women.
Overall, Walker is a highly influential writer whose sway in theblack community cannot be understated. Walker’s accomplishes ineducation, literature works such as poetry and writing novels,essays, and short stories are enlightening and appealing tointerracial audiences. Her contributions to the civil rights andwomen’s freedoms are also admirable. She opposes the abuse ofAfrican American women and advocated for their equity in society asindependent and intelligent people. Her works reflect on the issuesfacing society such as women’s sexuality, racial equality, andmoral that touches on many lives. Hence, I would recommend the worksof Walker for readers to understand our society and word better andwhere progress we have made from the Jim Crow laws, civil rightsmovement, and currently.
Clark, Alex. Alice Walker: `I feel dedicated to the whole ofhumanity. The Guardian. March 9, 2013. Web. July 20, 2016.
Epps, Henry. Great African-American Men in America history Vol II.Lulu. Com.
Fitzgerald, Stephanie. Alice Walker: Author and Social Activist.Minneapolis, Minn: Compass Point Books, 2008. Print.
Hoarsely, Joey. Alice Walker Biography. Fembio.org. Web. July 20,2016.
Walker, Alice. “We alone”. PoemHunter.com. Web. July 20,2016.
Walker, Alice. Beauty: When The Other Dancer Is The Self.1983. Print.