Radical Woman of the Day: Alice Walker

On this day in 1944 was born Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, poet, and activist. During the Jim Crow era, Walker’s sharecropper mother worked 11-hour days, earning $17 a week to help put her through college. After graduating from high school, Walker attended Spelman College, then Sarah Lawrence College, where she graduated in 1965. While at Spelman she met Martin Luther King, Jr. and Howard Zinn, whose combined influence led her to return to the South as a civil rights activist.

In 1967 Walker married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a white Jewish man, before moving to Mississippi, where they were “the first legally married inter-racial couple” in the state and faced harassment and threats from their white neighbors and the KKK. Walker began writing for Ms. magazine in the 1970s before moving to California after her amicable divorce from Leventhal. By the time she published The Color Purple in 1982 she had already written two other novels.

Walker won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 for The Color Purple and went on to publish several other novels, as well as collections of short stories and poetry. She has also continued to work occasionally as an activist, protesting the Iraq War and the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and earning a reputation for integrity because of her principled support for unpopular positions.