FEBRUARY 9, 1944
Alice Walker, novelist and poet, was the eighth child born to sharecroppers in Eatonton, Georgia.
During her youth, she was accidentally blinded in one eye, and her mother gave her a typewriter, which enabled her to write. She studied at Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College, receiving a scholarship to study in Paris. She turned it down to go instead in 1965 to Mississippi, where she joined the civil rights movement.
Part of her work involved taking depositions of sharecroppers, who like her parents had been thrown off the land. She and her husband, civil rights attorney Mel Leventhal, married in New York in March 1967, and when they returned to Mississippi four months later, they became the first legally married interracial couple in the state, where interracial marriage was still illegal.
They persevered through death threats, working together on the movement. Leventhal served as lead counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Walker taught history to Head Start students and became pregnant. Grief overcame her after Martin Luther King’s assassination, and she lost her unborn child. She continued to teach, showing students at Tougaloo College and Jackson State University how poetry could be used in activism.
After moving to New York, she finished her novel, Meridian, which describes the coming of age of civil rights workers during the movement. In 1983, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Color Purple, which has since been adapted in both a movie and a musical.
She has continued to champion racial and gender equality in her writing and her life.
“Activism,” she explained, “is the rent I pay for living on the planet.”