Black US novelist and poet whose writing explores racial and sexual politics as they affect African-American women.
Born into a family of sharecroppers in Eatonton, Georgia, Alice Walker attended Spelman College in Atlanta, where she became involved in civil-rights demonstrations. After graduating from Sarah Laurence College in 1965, she became a social worker in New York and taught black studies at Jackson State College (1968–69).
Walker's first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, was published in 1970; her second, Meridian (1976), draws on her own experiences of the civil-rights movement. The Color Purple (1982), Walker's best-known novel relates in a series of letters the story of an African-American woman who endures sexual, psychological, and racial abuse at the hands of men, yet whose determination to survive and ultimately to be happy wins through. The novel, which became a best-seller and won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize, was adapted for the cinema by Steven Spielberg in 1985. A more recent novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992), aroused controversy over its story about an African-American woman whose quest for identity leads her to return to her ancestors' tribe in Africa and undergo ritual female circumcision.
Walker's volumes of poetry include Once (1968), inspired by a visit to Africa in 1964, Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973), Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful (1984), and Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems (1965–90) (1991). Her short-story collections include Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973), in which she develops her celebrated metaphor of quilt making for writing, and You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (1981). Her critical writings include the collection of essays In Search of Our Mother's Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983).