Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia, to sharecroppers Minnie Tallulah Grant and Willie Lee Walker.
With eight mouths to feed, Alice’s mother also worked as a maid to supplement the family’s income with the intent to send her children to school as well -- a highly controversial subject and aspiration for African Americans in the racially segregated South under Jim Crow’s laws, as many white plantation owners during that time expected black people to work in their fields instead of earning an education.
Alice was a vivacious and talkative child throughout her younger years, until the summer of 1952, when she was accidentally wounded in her right eye by a BB gun while playing with her brother. Due to her parents’ financial status and inability to get Alice timely medical care, her injury festered and worsened, eventually leading to permanent blindness in her eye, with a prominent layer of scar tissue as a physical reminder.
Following the accident, Alice became self-conscious and shy, withdrawing herself from family and friends both at home and school. Coming from a family with deep roots in oral storytelling and traditions, Alice instead began to read and write privately to escape the taunts and stares at her wound. While the scar tissue above her eye was removed when Alice reached her teenaged years, the traumatic experiences, coupled with an environment filled with poverty and racism, left Alice highly sensitive and compassionate towards social issues.
While being voted most popular girl in school and queen of her senior class, Alice truly excelled in academics and was named class valedictorian. The honor secured her a full scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, before she transferred also on scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she wrote her first book of poetry during her senior year.
While Alice carried the same passion and sense of activism throughout her lifetime, her interest in the U.S. civil rights movement began in college, where her writings and narratives were deeply rooted in topics of racial, economic and gender inequality. After graduating in 1965, Alice returned to the South as a social worker and teacher, continuing to heavily involve herself in various social campaigns for human welfare rights, including participating in voter registration drives and children’s programs in Mississippi.
Alice’s writing voice and numerous literary works strongly paralleled her own experiences of racial and social injustice, especially from the African-American feminist perspective. Walker’s most critically-acclaimed 1982 novel, The Color Purple, remains her most well-known and best-selling work, earning her the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The novel addressing the struggles of Celie Harris, a poor African American woman living in the patriarchal, racist South, was adapted into a Steven Spielberg film by the same title starring Whoopi Goldberg just a few years later, in 1985.
To this day, Walker remains a prominent American fiction writer and continues to be a political and social advocate on behalf of various human and civil rights issues.