Alice Walker grew up as the youngest of eight children in Putnam County, Georgia. The Walker family fell victim to poverty. Her father worked as a sharecropper and made a meager salary of $300 (about $4,000 today) while her mother worked 11 hour days as a maid bringing home $17 a week. After Walker finished High School, she earned a full scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta and continued her studies there before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College in New York.
Unfortunately, Walker got pregnant in the summer of 1965 before her senior year of college and got an abortion which affected the rest of her life. After the abortion, Walker fell into a deep depression, but used writing (especially poetry) to cope. In 1968 her some of her poems were published in her first book of poetry Open. After Open was published Walker stepped away from writing and worked in Mississippi in the civil rights movement. Walker resumed writing shortly thereafter and published her first novel The Third Life of Grange Copeland in 1970. The novel is based on Grange Copeland, who was an abusive, irresponsible sharecropper.
Six years later, she published her second novel Meridian which revolved around civil rights activists, the civil rights movement and some of Walker’s personal experiences. Walker later published her most well-known book, The Color Purple which went on to win many awards and honors, such as the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the National Book Award for Fiction. While Walker was studying at Spelman College, she met Martin Luther King Jr. who was huge in influencing her in her decision to return to the South to become a civil rights activist. Walker also volunteered to register african american voters in Mississippi and Georgia.
For her efforts in the civil rights movement, she was awarded “Humanist of the Year” in 1997 by the American Humanist Association. Walker’s background paired with her work in the civil rights movement explain why she wrote poetry, and focused many of her works on civil rights.