Alice Walker: On Writing ‘The Color Purple’

Alice Walker

How did you prepare to write the story?

‘I prepared by changing my life almost completely. I was living in New York City. I was an editor at Ms. Magazine, I was married. I knew that I could not write this story, which started coming to me in the actual voices of the people. I knew I couldn’t write it in the city because of the tall buildings, the noise.

I also knew that I could not remain with my husband because the world that we had was charming and good but not large enough for these people and he would not have been able to understand them and he would not have been able to understand who I was to write this. So I got a divorce, we sold our house, eventually I got my half of the money from the house, moved here, but the characters, the people, they’re really – they’re very real to me – didn’t really – they loved the beauty of San Francisco a lot.

They didn’t like the earthquakes, of course, so I then knew I had to also take them out of the city to the countryside and I moved, I got a little cabin for $300 a month, and I went there, and I wrote. I went swimming a lot, walking a lot, but it did feel very much like prayer because I knew that I had to do this really well.’

The Colour PurpleFor Walker, writing The Color Purple demanded not only solitude whilst she worked, but a solitary existence.

She changed everything about her life, in order to accommodate her characters. They superseded her relationship with her husband, her successful career as an editor and the place she then called home.  Was such a radical change necessary for its creation? Walker clearly felt so.

She describes the voices of the characters speaking to her, as though she were a prophet, a visionary, or a schizophrenic. To her, they have a corporeal presence. It almost sounds like she channelled, rather than created them. It’s true that many of them resemble members of her family, her ancestors, so perhaps in a way she did.

If madness means a greater belief in your own inventions than in external mores, then perhaps all writers are mad. Perhaps writing requires this particular form of madness. Whatever the source, these voices her the conviction to shed all the trappings of her former life. I can only hope I would have the guts to do the same.

Alice Walker Image Source: The Southbank Centre

The Color Purple Image Source:

6 responses to “Alice Walker: On Writing ‘The Color Purple’

  1. There’s a definite ‘zone’ you have to be in for writing I think, and Alice Walker seems to have had to work quite hard to find hers – though if the result was The Color Purple who can argue that it was worth it?

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