Alice Walker—novelist, poet, feminist, and civil rights activist—was born February 9, 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia. She is most famous for her novel The Color Purple (1982), which was later turned into a movie (1985) directed by Steven Spielberg and is still performed as a musical today.
She had her hands in multiple cookie jars, and her name is known throughout America for all of the world-changing movements that she had a part in. But here are eight things that you may not have known about the legendary Alice Walker:
1) She came from a big family. had an impressive eight older siblings. Her parents fought to support their children by working as sharecropper tenant farmers.
2) An injury led to her love of poetry. At the age of eight she was shot in the eye with a BB gun. Walker couldn’t go to the doctor until days after the incident—doctors were expensive—resulting in whitish scar tissue in the damaged eye. She isolated herself after, citing that she was ugly and disfigured, but “she found solace in reading and writing poetry” (Bio.).
3) Her parents were an inspiration. They worked so that all of their children could be educated, braving the Jim Crow Laws and threats from the Ku Klux Klan. Her father was the first black man to vote in their county, and he had a glass ceiling attitude he instilled in his daughter.
4) She worked hard for her education. She attended segregated schools and Walker graduated as the valedictorian of her class. She attended Spelman College in Atlanta in 1961 but later transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, both on scholarship.
5) She was discovered by notable poet Muriel Rukeyser. Rukeyser discovered her as a gifted writer in college. Rukeyser passed along Walker’s first book of poems, titled Once, to her literary agent, Monica McCall, resulting in it being accepted by Harcourt Publishers in 1965.
6) She risked danger to fight for civil rights. When staying in a motel in Greenwood, Mississippi, while talking to a white lawyer, a man came to her and said, ”Don’t you let the sun go down on you in this here town.” Although her response later in life to the request was it was “such a cliché,” she took it seriously and her civil-rights colleagues escorted her out of town.
7) Her marriage was a scandal. While working for the NAACP legal defense fund she met her future husband: a Jewish civil rights lawyer named Melvyn Leventhal. They married in 1967 despite the
illegality of interracial marriage. They were the only legally married interracial couple living in Jackson, Mississippi.
8) Walker coined the term “womanist.” In 1983 Walker developed the movement, which is different from feminism. It described her personal beliefs and stances concerning gender roles often displayed in her writing. This term and movement helped broaden the feminism movement to include women of color.
Alice Walker was an inspiration to not just African Americans, but those of all races and genders. Jeanne Fox-Alston said Walker had a “reputation as a provocative writer who writes about blacks in particular, but all humanity in general.” Through her life and work, I think it’s safe to say that Alice Walker was a revolutionary woman born before her time, who also happens to continually make Georgia proud.