Award winning author, activist, professor, and poet, Alice Walker is a force to be reckoned with. She’s best known for her National Book and Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Color Purple (1982), which was adapted for the screen in 1985 by Stephen Speilberg and stared stared Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, and later for the stage, running on Broadway twice, from 2005 to 2008, and again from 2015-2017.
Before she became an author or fought for civil rights, she was just a kid growing up in the south under Jim Crow. The eighth, and youngest, child of Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Lou Tallulah Grant, Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944 in Putnam County, Georgia. Walker’s father was a sharecropper and dairy farmer, and her mother worked as a maid. Walker’s parents defied the racist expectations by enrolling her in first grade when she was just four years old. She began writing stories at age eight, and at 13, turned to reading and writing poetry after suffering an accident that left her blinded in her right eye, causing other children to tease her. After undergoing surgery at age 14 that removed the scar-tissue from over her eye, Walker quickly rose to the top of her class, but her traumatic injury had a lasting impact on her, causing her to look at people in relationships in a new way.
Walker continued to employ writing as a therapeutic practice; her first book of poetry, Once (1968), written while studying abroad in East Africa during her senior year at Sarah Lawrence, deals with her struggles with depression and suicidal ideation. Walker became an ardent supporter of the Civil Rights movement while in college, continuing her activism after graduating by moving to Mississipi in 1966, participating in voter registration drives, and campaigns advocating for welfare rights and children’s programs.
She turned back to writing as her sole endeavor in the 1970s, publishing her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland in 1970, and becoming an editor at Ms. magazine in 1973. She published her second novel, Meridian, a semi-autobiographical work about her involvement in the Civil Rights movement, in 1976. She continued to gain accolades through her writing career, publishing The Color Purple in 1982, and co-founded a feminist publishing company, Wild Tree Press, in California in 1984. In 2013, she published two books, The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way, and The World Will Follow Joy Turning Madness into Flowers (New Poems). Her work continues to explore racism, sexism, violence, and the struggles of black women. She remains a prominent figure in feminist activist movements, working to advance the rights of people of color, women, and those suffering under oppressive regimes.
We’re paying homage, and celebrating her birthday with these photos and quotes:
“The more I wonder, the more I love.”
“We are a people. A people do not throw their geniuses away. And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake of our children, and if necessary, bone by bone.”
“Why any woman give a shit what people think is a mystery to me.”
“Keep in mind always the present you are constructing. It should be the future you want.”
“I believe in movements, collective action to influence the future.”
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
“Truly the suffering is great, here on earth. We blunder along, shredded by our mistakes, bludgeoned by our faults. Not having a clue where the dark path leads us. But on the whole, we stumble along bravely.”
“Be nobody’s darling; Be an outcast. Take the contradictions Of your life and wrap around you like a shawl, to parry stones, to keep you warm.”
“Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn’t matter. I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for.”
“Laughter isn’t even the other side of tears. It is tears turned inside out.”
“In nature, nothing is perfect, and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.”
“Part of what existence means to me is knowing the difference between what I am now and what I was then.”
“Don’t wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you’ve got to make yourself.”
“No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.”
“As long as the Earth can make a spring every year, I can. As long as the Earth can flower and produce nurturing fruit, I can, because I’m the Earth. I won’t give up until the Earth gives up.”
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Cricket Epstein is BUST’s editorial intern. She writes about feminism, films, witches, and all things awesome (and terrible). She is currently working on a health and wellness website and podcast, to be launched in the near future. You can follow her on instagram @t0tally_buggin and at her poorly maintained doodlegram @poorly_drawn_puns.