12/4/2015 0 Comments
Writing Wrongs: Alice Walker
Deep in the South–thick air, saturated foods, warbling tongues behind plump lips–the reminiscent pain of slavery presses on like an iron against a board. As Southerners of all races, we make efforts to assimilate all cultures (so that we may not return to our brute roots of horrible subjugation) by a fusion that creates a fragrant, hearty soup from which we may all freely, safely taste. However, Southern society frequently fails to reflect on our ugly past in such a way that truly respects and understands what has happened. The type of literature that Alice Walker and authors like her produce is vital to making the final connection between cultures, so that we may submerge ourselves as deep as possible into a position of suffering that we will have never specifically known so that we might reflect with sincerity. I find it to be revolutionary and, perhaps, healing that Walker not only gives insight into the hardship that African Americans have suffered, but also gives a delicate, truthful face to the grievances of women. I cannot possibly stress how important it is that she illuminates the transcendence of misogyny cross-culturally. It is certainly no coincidence that women akin to Alice Walker often write about specific traumas from a very raw place. Many women, including myself, use writing as a voice of expression, redemption, and victory in a world that often denies us the fruits of our rightful validation and triumphs. As Southern women, it seems we have yet to conquer the final frontier of freeing ourselves from the gnarled grasp of sexist abuse and trauma that readily produces poetic sorrow and poised narration of a life from which we, at times, cannot protect ourselves.
Alice Walker was born into a family of sharecroppers on February 9, 1944 in Putnam County, Georgia. Her family of ten–mom, dad, seven siblings–was a victim of the construct of this new brand of legal slavery. The insatiable greed of the plantation owner and the looming blanket reign of Jim Crow left the family robbed of a livable salary under abusive working conditions. Despite the coiling ropes of oppression, Walker was gifted by the strong will of her parents. Her mother, Minnie Lou Grant, defended her voraciously and was a consistently insistent voice of support for the importance of education and freedom for her own children. Were it not for the championing attitude of the ever brassy and poignant Grant, Walker likely would not have been enrolled in school as a child, which would have certainly impeded her abilities and ambition, suctioning a critical African American female voice from the throws of literary America.
Walker, as many African American families of the time, was raised with storytelling as a pastime. It was from these stories that she drew her initial inspiration for composition, writing pell-mell as thoughts came and went. However, she couldn’t seriously pursue creative storytelling again until she went to university because of the privacy she was compelled to maintain by her family when, tragically, an episode in 1952 involving Walker’s brothers and a BB gun led to the crucial injury of Alice’s right eye. Walker has gone on-record stating that the shot to her eye was intentional, but that she felt compelled to protect her brothers from the punishment of their parents, were they to find out the truth. With no ready access to transportation and nobody willing to come to their aid, the family couldn’t get Walker the medical attention she needed for a week and, by that time, her injured eye was permanently blind. Coupled with the difficulty of her visual impairment and the shame of disfigurement, Walker became timid and reclusive, only finding solace in reading and writing poetry. Winds changed at the age of fourteen when Alice had scar tissue removed from her eye, helping her to feel decidedly more deserving of approval. With blossomed confidence, Walker went on to become valedictorian of her senior high school class and secured the admiration of her classmates.
Walker began college in 1961 at Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia and later transferred to Sarah Lawrence College, New York, in 1965. Tragedy reared its monstrous head again and vehemently struck Alice’s heart and poisoned her soul when she discovered that she was pregnant before returning for her senior year at Sarah Lawrence. She continued to school for the semester and lost her footing, cascading deep into the rabbit hole of depression. With a razor blade nestled beneath her pillow each night, Walker contemplated suicide. Poetry poured out of her as she worked to rearrange the sticky alphabet of her emotions. After several weeks, she decided on an abortion and was thankfully given a safe one despite the illegal methods used at that time.
Upon graduating college, Alice Walker published quite a few works, novels and poetry alike, before she published her most famous piece, The Color Purple, in 1982. The Color Purple proved to be the crucial link in pushing the stories of African American women into the mainstream. It opened the door for many other works of its kind to be taken seriously and paved a smooth path of opportunity for mainstream exposure to some of the nation’s most beloved works–most obviously, the resurfacing and movie production of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston after its original publication in 1937.
The Color Purple found success both in print and the 1985 film adaptation. The novel won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1983, while the film was nominated for a variety of Academy Award and Oscar categories. The Color Purple is likely to have had such exquisite success due to the gusto and emotion with which Alice Walker was able to author it as many elements closely mirror her own life experience. The chronicled oppression by the plantation owner in The Color Purple very obviously reflects the oppression experienced by Walker’s family at the hands of the plantation owner that they worked for as sharecroppers. In the novel, when Celie has her children taken from her and yearns for them throughout until she eventually discovers two of their identities, readers might be reminded of Walker’s own history with abortion and the residual pain and sorrow a mother has for a lost child. Celie and Nettie and, later, Celie and Shug use language and storytelling as a means of companionship, connection, and intimacy, much like the family of Alice Walker. In many interviews, Walker comments on the support of women in her life and the value of female-female bonds, which are represented by Celie’s female-female relationships in the novel. In contrast, it has been rumored that the character Mr._____ was brought to fruition by design wrought from the mirror of Walker’s own grandfather, which leads one to assume that Walker’s experiences with men were not ideal and possibly disgusting. The novel sheds light on the injustices that black Americans suffered at the hands of a white-dominated South when Sofia is sent to jail for standing up for herself. Walker likely deposited into her writing many strong female characters, like Sofia, as a delicious relief from the servient, submissive way that ante- and postbellum Southern black, and often white, women are portrayed. Walker does a complete and phenomenal job of composing an illumination of the racially and gender-specific cyclical violence and abuse that happened, and continues to, particularly in Southern America.
Great literature is born of life experienced and understanding those lives lived is crucial to understanding any piece of work. Though one must apply works to themselves, they must also give stock to the author’s own experiences, and Alice Walker has meshed so much of herself with her writing that it would come as no surprise to see the very words of her composition stamped upon her skin. Like any extraordinary author, there is no mark of where she and her literature begin and end. Instead of mutual exclusivity, Walker has grown with her literature into a symbiotic being, limbs of paper ribbons and fingers of inkwells, and created a beautiful, delicate fruit. As this month marks the 30th anniversary of the film adaptation of The Color Purple, Alice Walker should be celebrated as the pioneer she has so often proven to be.
Krista Mechelle Lewis is a twenty-two-year-old University of North Georgia student who hails, like many of her classmates, from a place nestled quaintly between the North Georgia mountains. As an adopted child, she is a melded assemblage of brassy trinkets drawn clumsily from both her nature and nurture. She has been married to a tall, dark, and handsome hunk named Dylan since May of 2014 and they are the proud pet-parents of three dogs (Jay Gatsby, Saint, and Pickles) and four hatchling, yellow-belly glider turtles (Felix, Neville, Flower, and Myrtle). Krista is a passionate soccer fan (of the wonky face-painting, “GOALLLLL”-shouting variety) and likes to play a pick-up game if ever her hectic schedule allows. She also enjoys running and hiking–the fresher the air, the better. The biology major in her enjoys seeking out gorgeous scenery and taking photos because–who knows?–the picture may actually last longer. Reading first became an obsessive pleasure for her at the ripe age of seven, when her mother took her to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and then placed the novel in her hands as soon as they arrived home the same evening; the rest has been–as they say it–history. Writing has come naturally for Krista for most of her life and she enjoys doing so when she has the chance. Creative arts have always saturated her life, from drawing to playing three instruments. Krista relishes time spent with her family and is beaming with pride if ever you ask her about her nephews and niece. In her free time, she volunteers and heavily advocates for the special needs community and is a counselor for Camp Jackie. Her passion for animals has led her to be a consistent volunteer at HSNEGA, and her husband is afraid that they may have a new animal in their midst each time she comes home from hanging with her beloved pound puppies. Krista plans to attend graduate school following graduation and hopes to spend her life making others smile. She can be rebellious, even down to the choice of her favorite color. It is always black for her, not because “it’s dark like her soul” or any teen angst description you might imagine, and it’s not because she’s exceptionally posh. It’s because black is every color on the spectrum absorbed and she absolutely refuses to choose a single one. Lastly, Krista insists that none of you ever stop using the Oxford comma because you never want to write an acceptance letter in which you thank “your parents, Oprah Winfrey and God.”
 “Alice Walker.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2015. Web. 7 Nov. 2015.
 Biography.com Editors. “Alice Walker Biography.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
 Whitted, Qiana. “Alice Walker (b. 1944).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. Georgia Humanities Council and University of Georgia Press, 2003. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.
 White, Evelyn C. Alice Walker: A Life. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. Google Books. Web. 3 Dec. 2015. 114.
 Biography.com Editors.
 “1983.” nbafictionblog.org. National Book Awards, 2009. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
 “Fiction: Winners.” pulitzer.org. The Pulitzer Prizes, 2015. Web. 3. Dec. 2015.
 “The Color Purple: Awards.” IMDb. IMDb.com, Inc., 2015. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
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