Born near Eatonton in 1944, Alice Walker was the eighth child of sharecroppers. Following an injury to her right eye at the age of eight, she became somewhat withdrawn and retreated into the world of books. A childhood friend recalls her reclining on a blanket on the ground with a book in hand. She, along with her mother, met the challenges of the time with determination and courage. While a student at Atlanta’s Spelman College, she became involved in the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. After transferring to Sarah Lawrence and remaining in New York, she met her husband, a civil rights attorney.
The couple moved to Jackson, Mississippi where they were both engaged in civil rights initiatives and where she focused heavily on her writing. Following their divorce, Walker moved to Northern California.
Like other Southern writers, Walker was heavily influenced by the bonds of family and connection to place. Her fiction often depicts African American family life and the complications of family relationships, at times tragic and disturbing, though with a strong message of survival. Her most acclaimed work The Color Purple, was published in 1982. The following year, The Color Purple was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and would become a highly successful motion picture.
Though her place on the world’s literary stage is secure, Walker remains a writer and an activist. She has been involved in numerous environmental and feminist causes. In the summer of 2019, the year of her 75th birthday, Walker returned to her hometown of Eatonton, which celebrated the many aspects of her life. Her childhood home, her family church, and her family cemetery remain in rural Putnam County, Georgia. Her school, Butler-Baker, remains standing in Eatonton. The Georgia Writers Museum in downtown Eatonton features exhibits and programs commemorating the three writers from the region: Alice Walker, Joel Chandler Harris, and Flannery O’Connor. Walker was influenced by O’Connor, and she and her mother visited Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville in 1974. She recalled the legendary peacocks of Andalusia, writing that they “lifted their splendid tails for our edification.”