2006 California Hall of Fame inductee Alice Walker is best known for her authorship of The Color Purple. The 1982 classic novel based on her own life story won the civil rights activist and essayist both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National book Award in 1983. Walker was the first black woman to ever win either award.
The Color Purple would eventually become both a film (in 1985 directed by Steven Spielberg) and Broadway stage production (in 2005 produced by Oprah Winfrey, Scott Sanders and Quincy Jones). Overall, The Color Purple would receive 11 Tony Award nominations with one win, five Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, three Drama League Award nominations, three Theatre World Award wins, one Grammy Award nomination, 12 NAACP Theatre Award nominations with three wins, 11 Academy Award nominations, five Golden Globe nominations with one win, and numerous other accolades. Steven Spielberg would win his first Directors Guild of America Award for Best Motion Picture Director for The Color Purple.
Walker was born to field worker parents in Eatonton, Georgia on February 9, 1944 during a time when the Jim Crow Laws of 1876 through 1965 restricted the lives of African American people in the South. The separate-but-equal racial segregation laws prevented the black population in the United States from interacting with the white population in public schools, restaurants, places of worship, restrooms, transportation, and so on. Walker’s mother enrolled her into first grade at the age of four in order to prevent her young daughter from working in the fields. She would go on to excel throughout her school years and become valedictorian of her high school class.
With the civil rights movement in full-force and the fire of activism running through her veins, Walker was inspired to attend the historic 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. would deliver his monumental “I Have a Dream” speech to an estimated 300,000 people.
In 2003 on the eve of the Iraq war, Walker was arrested with 24 other protesters in Washington, D.C. Walker recalled, “I was with other women who believe that the women and children of Iraq are just as dear as the women and children in our families, and that, in fact, we are one family. And so it would have felt to me that we were going over to actually bomb ourselves.” Walker’s entire report of the matter can be found in her essay “We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For.”
Furthering her commitment to the civil rights movement and her heritage, Walker donated 122 boxes of manuscripts and archive material to Atlanta, Georgia’s Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) in 2007.
When President Barack Obama was sworn into office, Walker wrote a letter to him titled, “An Open Letter to Barack Obama.” With references to the President as “Brother Obama,” Walker wrote, “seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina, and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.”
Walker has one daughter from a previous marriage to Jewish civil rights lawyer Melvyn Roseman Leventhal. Her romance in the 1990’s with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman has been documented throughout unreleased journals maintained by Walker. Of the muted relationship, Walker has told the press, “It was quiet to you maybe but that’s because you didn’t live in our area.”
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