Alice Walker

On this date in 1944, novelist, poet and self-described "Earthling" Alice Walker was born in Georgia, the youngest of eight children in a sharecropping family. Blinded in one eye during a childhood accident, she went on to become valedictorian at her high school, and attended both Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College on scholarships. Walker graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1965. She worked on voter registration drives in the 1960s, and married a fellow civil rights worker in 1967. They had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1970, and later divorced. Her first book of poetry was published in 1970. Walker edited I Love Myself When I am Laughing and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader, in 1979, introducing and popularizing Hurston to a new generation of fans. The Color Purple, Walker's bestselling 1982 novel, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 and was turned into a popular movie by Steven Spielberg. Walker, a graceful and memorable essayist, introduced the term "womanist" to the feminist movement to describe African-American feminism. Her books of essays include In Search of Our Mother's Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983), Alice Walker Banned (1996), and Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism (1997). Walker has worked actively against female genital mutilation, suggesting that anti-woman practice may have some of its roots in the Mosaic preoccupation with circumcision. Walker has written a biography on Langston Hughes, and her many other books include Meridian (1976), You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (1981), The Temple of My Familiar (1989), and Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992).

Walker's views on religion are expressed in "The Only Reason You Want to Go to Heaven Is That You Have Been Driven Out of Your Mind (Off Your Land and Out of Your Lover's Arms): Clear Seeing Inherited Religion and Reclaiming the Pagan Self" (anthologized in Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism). Raised as a Methodist by devout parents, early in life she observed church hypocrisy, especially the silencing of the women who cleaned the church and kept it alive. "Life was so hard for my parents' generation that the subject of heaven was never distant from their thoughts. . . . The truth was, we already lived in paradise but were worked too hard by the land-grabbers to enjoy it." In The Color Purple, the protagonist rebels against a God who "act just like all the other mens I know. Trifling, forgitful and lowdown. . . . I blaspheme much as I want to." Walker, rebelling against the misogyny of Christian teachings and the imposition of a white religion upon the enslaved, advises: "It is fatal to love a God who does not love you. . . . We have been beggars at the table of a religion that sanctioned our destruction." Describing paganism as "of the land, country dweller, peasant," Walker notes: "All people deserve to worship a God who also worships them. A God that made them, and likes them. That is why Nature, Mother Earth, is such a good choice. Never will Nature require that you cut off some part of your body to please It; never will Mother Earth find anything wrong with your natural way."

Photo by Virginia DeBolt and OTRS under CC 2.0

“What a burden to think one is conceived in sin rather than in pleasure; that one is born into evil rather than into
joy. . . 

It is chilling to think that the same people who persecuted the wise women and men of Europe, its midwives and healers, then crossed the oceans to Africa and the Americas and tortured and enslaved, raped, impoverished, and eradicated the peaceful, Christ-like people they found. And that the blueprint from which they worked, and still work, was the Bible.”

—-Alice Walker, "The Only Reason You Want to Go to Heaven Is That You Have Been Driven Out of Your Mind," Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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