glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Walker, Alice (b. 1944)  

In her explorations of the damage done to the individual by racism and sexism, Alice Walker depicts lesbianism as natural and freeing, an aid to self-knowledge and self-love.

Alice Malsenior Walker was born February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia, to an African-American sharecropper family. She attended Spelman College from 1961 to 1963, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965. In 1964, she traveled to Africa and began to write poetry, some of it published in the 1968 collection, Once.

After college, she worked for New York City's welfare department and for the civil rights movement in Mississippi. In 1967, she married Melvyn R. Levanthal, a civil rights lawyer, and they had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1969. In 1976, they were amicably divorced.

In the 1970s, Walker's writing career began to blossom. By 1974, she was a contributing editor at Ms Magazine.

Walker has received many writing fellowships from, for example, the MacDowell Colony, the Radcliffe Institute, and the Guggenheim Foundation. She has taught at several universities and has published numerous volumes of poetry, fiction, and essays.

Among the prestigious awards she has received are the Lillian Smith Award for Revolutionary Petunias (1973), which was also nominated for a National Book Award; the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1974); and the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple (1982).

In 1981, she moved to California, where she continues to live and write.

Alice Walker's work speaks to such universal themes as spiritual survival; the achievement of individual identity, freedom, and power; and the interconnectedness of self and community. Her concern with these issues is effectively cast within the framework of black female experience. She explores the damage to the individual self wrought by racism and sexism, which she sees as related consequences of patriarchal cultures.

As she depicts racial and sexual taboos, she diagnoses abusive behavior as an expression of self-hatred and the fragmentation of female wholeness as effected by conformity. Walker's recurrent argument is that healthy self-definition stems from self-knowledge and self-love.

Within these contexts, she treats lesbianism as natural and freeing, notably in The Color Purple. Here Celie, the protagonist, is figuratively reborn from a death of the spirit through her sister/friend/lover's teaching. She is sexually and spiritually awakened to both the beauty of her body and the possibility of personal autonomy within a shared and reciprocal relationship.

It is clear from Walker's entire work that there are no forbidden loves or themes. She demands that conventions be questioned. Her novel Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992) is about the practice of performing clitoridectomies on African women. She forces the reader to share her character's physical pain but even more to empathize with the mutilation of her spirit. Fact and metaphor join.

Alice Walker sees women as scarred by rigid, constricting gender categories. As her last novel announces, the "secret of joy" is resistance. Her entire work says that society must change to enable personal transformation and wholeness.

Resistance to inhibiting taboos is potentially redemptive, and affective bonding, of which lesbianism is an example, can be curative and liberating. Walker is important both for her expression of these themes and for her fictional representation of characters who break conventional stereotypes.

Dorothy H. Lee


zoom in
Alice Walker in 2007. Photograph by Virginia De Bolt.
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature
Popular Topics:


Williams, Tennessee
Williams, Tennessee

Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer

The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance

Romantic Friendship: Female
Romantic Friendship: Female

Feminist Literary Theory

American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969
American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Erotica and Pornography
Erotica and Pornography

Mishima, Yukio
Mishima, Yukio

Sadomasochistic Literature

Beat Generation
Beat Generation


   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  African-American Literature: Lesbian

Most African-American lesbian literature is as concerned with racism as it is with sexuality, causing many writers to construct Afrocentric sexual identities that affirm the power of black women.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall

Since Stonewall various political agendas have dominated American lesbian literature.

literature >> Overview:  Bisexual Literature

Although Western culture's reliance upon binary systems of classification and identification has meant the practical erasure of bisexuality, as such, from literary and cultural analysis, bisexual experiences appear in many literary works from ancient times to the present.

literature >> Overview:  Historical Fiction

Glbtq historical fictions creatively interweave fiction with facts in ways that have not only won them a large readership but also have offered that readership insightful illuminations of glbtq histories.

social sciences >> Chase, Cheryl

Activist Cheryl Chase has led efforts to educate both medical professionals and parents of intersexed children so that unnecessary surgeries may be avoided and intersexed people may have happier and healthier lives.

literature >> Sapphire (Ramona Lofton)

Bisexual African-American novelist, poet, and performance artist Sapphire came to public attention with works that focus on the harrowing realities of inner city existence.


Bloom, Harold, ed. Alice Walker: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.

Christian, Barbara. "Alice Walker: The Black Woman Artist as Wayward." Black Women Writers (1950-1980). Mari Evans, ed. New York: Anchor, 1984. 457-477.

_____. "No More Buried Lives: The Theme of Lesbianism in Lorde, Naylor, Shange, Walker." Feminist Issues 5.1 (Spring 1985): 3-20.

McDowell, Deborah. "The Changing Same: Generational Connections and Black Women Novelists." New Literary History 18.2 (Winter 1987): 281-302.


    Citation Information
    Author: Lee, Dorothy H.  
    Entry Title: Walker, Alice  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 29, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


This Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.