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Everyday Use | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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Alice Walker | Biography


Alice Walker, best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, was born to sharecropper parents on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. Walker's early childhood was happy despite economic poverty. Her parents greatly valued education and made sure all of their eight children, of whom Alice was the youngest, attended school. Later her mother worked as a maid to make extra money to help pay for Alice's college education. Walker's background is reflected in "Everyday Use" in the simple lives of the main characters, its focus on education, and in the strength of Mrs. Johnson.

At age eight Walker was blinded in one eye when one of her brothers accidentally shot her with a BB gun. Embarrassed by her scars and her classmates' teasing, Walker became shy and turned to reading and writing poetry. Studious and bright, Walker published her first short story in 1961, the year she graduated from high school as valedictorian. She earned a scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta, where she became active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. After two years Walker transferred to Sarah Lawrence College and spent an exchange year studying in Africa. In 1967 she married Melvyn Leventhal, with whom she had a daughter.

Walker has spent most of her career teaching and writing. Her first collection of poetry, Once, appeared in 1968 and her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, in 1970. Much of her writing and her continued activism have focused on black women's lives, racial equality, and civil rights. In 1982 Walker won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Color Purple, which was made into an award-winning film by Steven Spielberg three years later.

"Everyday Use" mirrors events and movements of Walker's life. The rural setting of the story is likely Georgia, where Walker grew up. Like Walker, who was injured in childhood, the character Maggie is disfigured in a fire, an event that causes her to withdraw from the world around her. Walker also portrays the characters Dee and a man referred to as Hakim-a-barber as representatives of the then-current social movement of black Americans reclaiming their African heritage.

Walker has written more than 30 novels, nonfiction books, and collections of poetry and short stories. She is regarded as one of the most important voices to emerge from the Black Arts movement, along with authors such as Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou.

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