When Alice Walker wrote, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it,” she was referring to the vivid wildflowers growing near her childhood home. Walker, who is best known for her novel The Color Purple, grew up in Eatonton. This tiny town is about 80 miles southeast of Atlanta, and remnants of the past are very much present. Her parents were sharecroppers — an upbringing that gave Walker reverence for a land that didn’t always love her back — but that has changed.
On July 13, the Georgia Writers Museum and the City of Eatonton will host a 75th birthday celebration for Walker, whose actual birthday is February 9. The all-day event takes place at the Plaza Arts Center in Eatonton and is open to the public. The celebration features food, cocktails, a tour of the places that marked Walker’s childhood and readings by other famous Georgia writers including Pearl Cleage and Tayari Jones. Walker’s daughter, Rebecca Walker — who is the author of the bestselling memoir Black, White and Jewish — will also participate in the readings.
“The Georgia Writers Museum approached me about helping them organize some kind of celebration for Alice Walker’s 75th birthday,” says Valerie Boyd, a friend of Walker and one of the event organizers [full disclosure: Boyd is a former ARTS ATL board member]. “It started out as a small tribute that Eatonton could do in honor of its most famous daughter. As it grew, and we started to tell Alice Walker about our plans, she said she wanted to join us.”
The event comes on the heels of the grand reopening of the Georgia Writers Museum. The museum contains rooms dedicated to famous Georgia authors Joel Chandler Harris, Flannery O’Connor and Walker. Some of the writers participating in the readings will be signing books in the museum in the afternoon. Lou Benjamin, cochair of the event and president of Lake Country Arts (the parent organization for the Georgia Writers Museum) says that more than anything, he wants people visiting Eatonton and especially Walker to have a great day.
“Her memories of Eatonton are not all that positive, and we’re welcoming her as a part of the community and letting her know that we are proud of her achievements,” says Benjamin.
Walker will be available to interact with fans throughout the day, and attendees will be able to ask her questions during an intimate question-and-answer session in the evening. There will also be a limited number of signed copies of her books available through Charis Books at the Georgia Writers Museum.
She has penned close to 40 books, including novels, poetry and short stories. Walker primarily writes about the intersection of black life in the South, feminism, politics and the urgency of love. She won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for her third novel, The Color Purple, making her the first African American woman to win in that category. The novel has since been adapted into an Oscar-nominated film and a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical.
Boyd encourages event attendees to get a refresher on Walker’s other works, including her latest book of poetry, Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart, and her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Boyd is the editor of the forthcoming book Gathering Blossoms Under Fire, a collection of Walker’s journals.
“What I’m looking forward to the most is the opportunity to celebrate Alice Walker’s life, her work and her legacy,” says Boyd. “I also am looking forward to just walking around with her — my mentor and friend — and watching her enjoy her special day.”