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Walker, Alice M. (1944- )

The first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Alice Walker was born the eighth child of sharecroppers Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker, on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. Walker became the valedictorian of her segregated high school class, despite an accident at age eight that impaired the vision in her left eye. Before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College, where she received a B.A. degree, she attended Atlanta’s Spelman College for two years, where she became a political activist, met Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., and participated in the 1963 March on Washington.

Also, during her undergraduate studies, Walker visited Africa as an exchange student. She later registered voters in Georgia and worked with the Head Start program in Mississippi, where she met and married civil rights attorney Melvyn Rosenthal (the marriage lasted ten years), became the mother of daughter Rebecca, and taught at historically black colleges Jackson State College and Tougaloo College. Walker has also taught at Wellesley College, University of Massachusetts at Boston, the University of California at Berkeley, and Brandeis University.  At Brandeis she is credited with teaching the first American course on African American women writers.

Walker continued working in the civil rights movement while teaching at various universities.  During this time she also became a major voice in the emerging feminist movement led by mostly white middle-class women. Aware of the issues of race in that movement, Walker later created a specific black woman centered feminist theory, which she called “womanism,” to identity and assess the oppression based on racism and classism that African American women often experience.

Walker’s collected work includes poetry, novels, short fiction, essays, critical essays, and children’s stories. Her collections of poems includes: Once (1968), Revolutionary Petunias And Other Poems (1973), Horses Make A Landscape Look More Beautiful (1984), and Absolute Truth in the Goodness of the Earth:

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