- Pulitzer Prize-winning author
- Longtime admirer of Fidel Castro
- Supporter of cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal
- Thinks the key to defeating Osama bin Laden is “love”
Novelist and poet Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. After graduating as valedictorian of her high-school class, she attended Spellman College and Sarah Lawrence College, graduating from the latter in 1965.
While in college, Walker traveled to Africa as an exchange student. She attended the Communist-sponsored Youth World Peace Festival in Helsinki, Finland, for which she was recognized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She was invited to the home of the civil rights leader at the end of her freshman year and participated in the March on Washington in August 1963. During her senior year, Walker got pregnant and became suicidal. She eventually had an abortion and wrote about the experience; this became the basis of her first published collection of poetry, Once (1968).
After graduating from college, Walker worked on voter-registration drives and promoted welfare rights in Georgia. It was during this time that she met Melvyn Leventhal, a white civil rights attorney who she wed in 1967. Walker and Leventhal became the first legally married interracial couple to live in the state of Mississippi; they would divorce ten years later.
In 1970, with the help of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Walker wrote The Third Life of Grange Copeland, the story of a despondent black tenant farmer who leaves his wife and son in Georgia and goes North in search of a better life.
Walker, who worked as an editor for Ms. Magazine in the 1970s, is known for her portrayals of the sexism, racism, and poverty that she believes make the lives of African-American women so difficult. Her most famous work was her 1982 novel The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the American Book Award. The story was also made into an Oscar-winning film starring Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover and directed by Steven Spielberg.
A longtime admirer of Fidel Castro, Walker has called for an end to the U.S. embargo against Communist Cuba. In 2002, Walker was featured in the documentary Fidel, in which she was quoted as saying "What's not to like about the man? If Fidel could dance, he'd be perfect!" In March 2005, Walker signed a letter stating that the U.S. government had no moral authority to criticize Cuba's human rights record in light of the prisoner-abuse controversies involving American military personnel at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
A staunch opponent of the death penalty, Walker supports amnesty for Assata Shakur, a former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army leader who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in a maximum-security prison for her role in a 1973 shootout that left a state patrolman dead. Shakur escaped from prison in 1979 and lived underground until 1986, when she was granted political asylum in Cuba, where she has lived ever since. Says Walker: "I take her [Shakur's] word that she didn't kill the man. Cuba permitted her to have a life, but she is still unable to be with her family and friends. To put a bounty on her head is evil. Assata Shakur is a great human being. She should be left in peace and happiness. Any attempt to make her suffer is utterly demonic."
On at least two occasions, Walker has visited the convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal in prison, describing him as "just beautiful. He is a beautiful person. He is intelligent. He is compassionate. He has a lot of light. He reminds me of Nelson Mandela." "I don't have any doubt that Mumia was framed," says Walker. "None. In fact, what I think happened is that he was actually trying to help Faulkner [the policeman who was murdered]."
Over the years, Walker has made campaign contributions to leftist political candidates like Senator Barbara Boxer, Senate candidate and Global Exchange leader Medea Benjamin, and Congressional Representatives Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, and Ron Dellums.
One of Walker's pet causes is her campaign to make Hawaii a country rather than a state. "People should know that Hawaii is a country and should be respected as such," she says . "Because it was forcibly annexed to the United States does not mean that it is the U.S., except by conquest."
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Walker stated: "In a war on Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden will either be left alive, while thousands of impoverished, frightened people are bombed into oblivion around him, or he will be killed in a bombing attack for which he seems quite prepared. But what would happen to his cool armor if he could be reminded of all the good, nonviolent things he has done? Further, what would happen to him if he could be brought to understand the preciousness of the lives he has destroyed? I firmly believe the only punishment that works is love."
Walker joined the Worldwide Sisterhood Against Terrorism and War, along with feminists like Gloria Steinem, Susan Sarandon and Eve Ensler. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, this organization circulated a petition protesting the bombing of Afghanistan on the grounds that it "would only punish suffering people and increase the hatred on which terrorists feed."
In March 2003, Walker participated in an anti-war demonstration organized by Code Pink, where she proclaimed that "the best substitute for war is intelligence." Another featured speaker that day, Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, declared admiringly that "the best substitute for George Bush is Alice Walker."
According to Walker, organized religion "has systematically undermined and destroyed the sexual and spiritual beliefs of millions of indigenous people. There have been people on earth who didn't think about sex the way white, Western men do. It is very painful to think that the 'missionary position,' which reinforces patriarchal, male dominance over women, was forced upon people who once loved having women freely express their sexuality, whether they were on the top or bottom."
In an April 2008 article appearing in The Guardian, Walker publicly endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama "because I believe he is the right person to lead the country at this time." Said Walker: “He is ... a remarkable human being, not perfect but humanly stunning, like King was and like Mandela is. We look at him, as we looked at them, and are glad to be of our species. He is the change America has been trying desperately and for centuries to hide, ignore, kill. The change America must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people other than our (white) selves."
In the same article, Walker wrote: "I agree with a teacher of mine, Howard Zinn, that war is as objectionable as cannibalism and slavery; it is beyond obsolete as a means of improving life. I want an end to the on-going war immediately and I want the soldiers to be encouraged to destroy their weapons and to drive themselves out of Iraq."
In Walker's view, Israel egregiously mistreats the Palestinian people. “I want the Israeli government to be made accountable for its behavior towards the Palestinians," she writes, "and I want the people of the United States to cease acting like they don't understand what is going on. All colonization, all occupation, all repression basically looks the same, whoever is doing it...."
In 2011, Walker planned to participate in a Free Gaza flotilla scheduled for late June of that year.
In June 2012, Walker announced that she was refusing to allow the Israeli publisher Yediot Books to release a Hebrew translation of her book The Color Purple, because Israel, in her view, was an “apartheid” state. In a letter to Yediot Books which she posted on the website “Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel,” Walker characterized Israeli policies as being “far worse” than those of pre-1960s America. Wrote Walker:
"As you may know, last Fall in South Africa the Russell Tribunal on Palestine met and determined that Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories. The testimony we heard, both from Israelis and Palestinians (I was a jurist) was devastating. I grew up under American apartheid and this was far worse. Indeed, many South Africans who attended, including Desmond Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than what they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated South Africa for so long. It is my hope that the non-violent BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, of which I am part, will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation."
Walker is a supporter of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
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