When Ms Walker was eight years old an accident with a BB gun left her partially blind in her right eye. Previously an outgoing child, this accident led to her becoming reclusive and shy, strongly self-consciousness about being, in her eyes, ugly. She spent her time reading and writing, and her ambition to become a poet and author was born. Six years after the accident her older brother managed to save money so she could receive treatment to ensure her facial scarring became less noticeable. Her confidence re-emerged but her experiences meant she still felt she an outsider, and this lent empathy and understanding to her writing.
Ms Walker’s mother believed in the importance of education, refusing to let Ms Walker leave school to work the farm and supporting her writing ambitions. With this support she graduated Fountain Valley High School as both Prom Queen and Class Valedictorian. In 1961 Ms Walker left home to attend Spelman College in Atlanta on a scholarship. It was at this renowned institute for African American women she met Martin Luther King, having been invited to his home as a result of her attendance at a Youth World Peace Conference in Finland. Her political activism evolved as she became involved in the civil rights movement partly through the mentoring influence of one of her professors, activist Howard Zinn. She was one of the Mississippi marchers in 1963, when one of the largest rallies in US history took place in Washington, calling for civil and economic rights for African Americans. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed.
After two years at Spelman, Ms Walker transferred to Sarah Lawrence College near New York City. In her junior year she went to Africa as an exchange student, and graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Ms Walker returned to Georgia during college breaks and she became involved with the voter registration drive, encouraging African American citizens to register and use their vote. During this period she served as Writer-In Residence at Jackson College, Mississippi and worked with the Head Start Foundation in Jackson, a program aimed at promoting education for poor children.
In 1967 Ms Walker married civil rights lawyer Martin Leventhal whom she met in New York whilst studying. As the only inter-racial married couple in Jackson they experienced racism and harassment, and relocated to New York in 1968 where Ms Walker was employed in the City Welfare Department. In the same year her first book of poetry Once was published and Ms Walker moved on to become a teacher.
In 1969 Ms Walker published her first novel and had her only child, Rebecca, who is a renowned civil rights activist in her own right. For the next few years she combined teaching at various colleges in Mississippi and Boston with her writing and activism, working as contributing editor of Ms. Magazine, but her marriage came to an end in 1976 and shortly afterwards she relocated to north California, where she has resided ever since.
Amongst myriad activities, Ms Walker taught African American women's studies at Wellesley, the University of Massachusetts at Boston, Yale, Brandeis, and the University of California at Berkeley, and is co-founder of Wild Tree Press. She has campaigned for environmental, civil rights and antinuclear causes.
Ms Walker’s has received many awards both for her writing and her activism, including both an American Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for her most well known novel The Colour Purple (1982) and the American Humanist Association nominated her Humanist of the Year in 1997. In 2001 she was inducted into the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame and in 2006 was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the California Museum for History, Women and the Arts.
Ms Walker’s writing is renowned worldwide for its lyrical depiction of African American women in their struggle against the racist, sexist, and violent society in which they live. She focuses on the roles played throughout the history of the US and the involvement or lack thereof in both mainstream and marginalised culture. Ms Walker is respected and admired throughout the world for her political activism and for giving a voice to the disenfranchised and discriminated against. She is one of the first voices of the third wave of feminism and it is she who is credited for the term “womanism” for theories the specific issues of women of colour that previous forms of feminism had been criticised for omitting.
In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, 1973 (fiction)
Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You In The Morning, 1979 (poetry)
Horses Make The Landscape Look More Beautiful, 1985 (poetry)
Living By The Word, 1988 (non-fiction)
To Hell With Dying, 1988 (fiction)
Her Blue Body Knows Everything We Know: Earthling Poems, 1991 (poetry)
Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writers Activism, 1997 (non-fiction)
Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart, 2005 (fiction)
Overcoming Speechlessness, 2010 (non-fiction)
This is What a Feminist Looks Like FOTW blog post no. 11, compiled by Kayla Calkin:
Blog by Tina Price-Johnson