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Meridian | 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. Her mother later worked as a maid to make extra money to help pay for Walker's college education.

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. 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. Walker published her first short story in 1965, after graduating from Sarah Lawrence. 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.

Meridian mirrors events and movements of Walker's life. Rural Georgia, where Walker grew up, and Atlanta, where she went to college, are both settings in the novel. The central events of the story focus on the civil rights movement, with the protagonist Meridian Hill participating in it actively, just as Walker did.

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 (BAM). This movement of musicians, artists, and writers came out of the Black Power Movement, starting in 1965 and ending in 1975. Other BAM authors include Toni Morrison (1931–) and Maya Angelou (1928–2014).

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