Alice Walker – A Color-filled Southern Voice
Alice Malsenior Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. She was the eighth and youngest child of Minnie and Willie Lee Walker – struggling sharecroppers, but abundant in spirit and love.
Her father’s great-great-great grandmother Mary Poole was a slave forced to walk from Virginia to Georgia with a baby in each arm. Her mother’s grandmother Talluhah was mostly Cherokee Indian. Alice is deeply proud of her cultural heritage.
After graduating from high school in 1961, Alice attended Spelman College in Atlanta. Alice’s mother gave her three special gifts before she left home: a sewing machine for self-sufficiency, a suitcase for independence and a typewriter for creativity.
While at Spelman, Alice participated in civil rights demonstrations and was invited to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home in 1962 at the end of her freshman year. She then attended the Youth World Peace Festival in Helsinki, Finland and traveled throughout Europe the following summer. This spawned her love for travel and encountering the many peoples and cultures of the world.
In August 1963 Alice traveled to Washington D.C. She couldn’t see much of the main podium but heard Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” address.
During her junior year, Alice received a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She became one of a handful of black Americans at the prestigious university.
While at Sarah Lawrence, her additional world traveling opportunities broadened her mind. During her senior year, Alice realized she was pregnant. Frightened and not knowing how to tell her parents, Alice considered committing suicide. She turned to poetry, trying to come to terms with her feelings and worst fears. Alice eventually chose to have an abortion.
During her recovery from the depression and anxiety she had suffered, Alice wrote a short story aptly titled “To Hell With Dying.” Her mentor Muriel Ruykeyser sent the story to publishers as well as to the poet Langston Hughes. To Alice’s delight, the story was published and she received a hand-written note of encouragement from Hughes. Alice was just 21 years old.
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence in 1965, Alice returned to Georgia and participated in the civil rights movement once again, but returned to New York City in the fall of 1965. But the struggle in the South beckoned her back, wherein during the summer of 1966 she again registered voters door-to-door in Mississippi where she fell in love with Mel Leventhal, an equally passionate Jewish law student who handled civil rights cases. She returned to New York city with him where he was attending law school.
While working on her first novel, Alice and Leventhal wed and moved back to Mississippi where he could pursue civil rights litigation. Despite threats of physical violence due to their inter-racial marriage, Alice worked as a black history teacher for the local Head Start program.
Alice continued her writing, accepted a teaching position at Jackson State University and published her first volume of poetry, “Once.” Walker became pregnant and finished her first novel “The Third Life of Grange Copeland” the same week her daughter Rebecca Grant was born.
Alice’s novel received literary praise but also criticism. The story involves the murder of a woman by her husband. Many black critics said she dealt too harshly with the black male characters in her book. Alice rebutted such claims, saying that women are all too often abused by men they love.
In 1972 she accepted a teaching position at Wellesley College where Alice began one of the first women’s studies courses in the nation, a women’s literature course. She also wanted to introduce her students to black women writers. In her search for material, she found Zora Neale Hurston, a much forgotten Harlem Renaissance writer. She would later edit an anthology of Hurston’s work and place a memorial on Zora’s unmarked grave in Florida.
Seemingly inspired by this new heroine, Alice wrote fervently. In 1973 she published her first collection of short stories, “In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women” and her second volume of poetry “Revolutionary Petunias & Other Poems.”
After numerous awards, she became an editor for “Ms. Magazine,” and by 1976 published her second novel, “Meridian.” The book chronicled a young woman’s struggle during the civil rights movement. At the same time, her marriage to Leventhal ended.
“Meridian” received much acclaim and Alice accepted a
When the movie “The Color Purple” premiered in her hometown of Eatonton, Alice received a hero’s welcome and parade in her honor. Her sister Ruth began “The Color Purple Foundation” which does charitable work for education.
In 1984 Alice published her third volume of poetry, “Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful.” She followed this in 1988 with her second book of essays, “Living By the Word.” In 1989 she published her epic novel “The Temple of My Familiar.”
Alice next published another volume of poetry, “Her Blue Body Everything We
In 1996 Alice published “The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult” in which she describes through essays and journal entries the loss of her beloved mother and her own battle with Lyme disease and depression. The book also contains Alice’s own version of the screenplay to “The Color Purple” and many of her notes and remembrances from the making of her novel into
The next year Alice published another non-fiction title “Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism” with more essays inspired by her ever-expanding political activism. Alice remains an outspoken activist on issues of oppression and power and championing the victims of racism, sexism,
In September 1998, Alice published “By the Light of My Father’s Smile”. Her first novel in six years, the book examines the connections between sexuality and spirituality. The multi-narrated story of several generations explores the relationships of fathers and daughters.
Alice’s newest work is a collection of stories called “The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart.” The stories combine autobiography and fiction as Alice examines the bindings and breakings of relationships with friends and family and lovers.
Alice Walker truly exemplifies the power of the Southern Voice in American literature.
Fiercely loyal to her native South and abiding faith, Flannery O’Connor held little patience for those who saw her depiction of the South as a caricature and who felt she could not possibly share or take seriously the religious preoccupations of her characters. But neither her critics nor the lingering health struggles over the last fifteen years of her life – a time of great suffering – could prevent her from preserving the integrity of a body of work that, however lacking in bulk, places her securely in the first rank of American fiction writers of the twentieth century.
Mary Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, on March 25, 1925 – the only child of Edward O’Connor, Jr., and Regina (Cline) O’Connor. Both her parents’ families had emigrated from Ireland to Georgia in the nineteenth century. The O’Connors were also Catholics in a Protestant-dominated South, and Flannery’s education came from a series of parochial schools.
In 1938, her father’s real estate business had suffered during the Depression; he began working as a real estate appraiser for the Federal Housing Authority, which required the family to relocate to Atlanta. O’Connor and her mother chose to live in Milledgeville. Her father struggled with lupus, which ultimately consumed his life in 1941.
From 1938 to 1945, O’Connor received her primary education in Milledgeville. While in high school she wrote and drew cartoons for the school newspaper. At Georgia State College for Women, also in Milledgeville, she earned a bachelors of arts in English and Sociology. And more significantly, she dropped her first name and wrote under the name of Flannery O’Connor.
From 1945 to 1948, she did postgraduate work at the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she undertook a formal course of reading that introduced her to the work of modern writers such as Joyce, Kafka, and her fellow Southerner William Faulkner. After several unsuccessful efforts to get published, her fiction began to be accepted both by popular magazines such as Mademoiselle and journals such as The Sewanee Review. She also won the Rinehart-Iowa Fiction Award for her novel in progress, earning her an award of $750 and a contract with Rinehart and Company to publish the book upon its satisfactory (to them) completion.
During 1948 and 1949, O’Connor worked on her book at an artists’ colony near Saratoga Springs, New York. She boarded at the home of noted poet Robert Fitzgerald and his family in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Friction developed with Rinehart when O’Connor refused to revise her book according to the publisher’s editorial suggestions and they characterized her as uncooperative. She obtained her contractural release
She began to suffer pains in her arms and shoulder joints and developed a high fever on her train trip to Georgia for Christmas. She was hospitalized on her arrival and like her father was diagnosed with lupus. She never again would she be completely healthy, but through therapy and a strict diet recovered sufficiently to complete her novel- titled Wise Blood, published in 1952. In contrast to her experience with Rinehart, she was quite responsive to editorial insight and advice–and would remain so throughout her life.
Though O’Connor remained a devout Catholic, her stories usually focused upon mainstream Southern whites who professed the Protestant faith of fundamentalist and often highly idiosyncratic tendencies.
She continued to write and to publish short stories, including “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” which first appeared in 1953 in a paperback anthology called The Avon Book of Modern Writing, and two years later became the title piece of A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories. This collection was praised by reviewers, and it sold unexpectedly well for a book of short fiction.
Despite continuing health problems, O’Connor continued living and working with her mother on their family farm. Her second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, published in 1960 to mixed reviews.
O’Connor saw her reputation consolidated in the early 1960s with several essays on her fiction in the Summer 1962 issue of the Sewanee Review and the publication in 1963 of her three books in a one-volume paperback edition called Three by Flannery O’Connor.
At the end of 1963, she suffered a pre-Christmas fainting spell that led to the diagnosis of a fibroid tumor, which was surgically removed in February 1964. Fearing the worst, she devoted her remaining strength to finish the last two of the nine stories planned for her forthcoming collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge. The book appeared in 1965 but as a posthumous publication. O’Connor died on August 3, 1964, at the age of thirty-nine.
In the carefully crafted prose of the two novels and nineteen short stories that she deemed worthy of book publication, she created a gallery of fantastic-seeming but deeply felt and sympathetic characters, in whose stories the humorous often gives way with sickening swiftness to the horrible, and whose lives, however twisted and tortured they may become, remain steadfast searches for the healing power of grace.
Although many writers in this century have sought to catch the flavor of what critics customarily term “Southern gothic,” O’Connor is unsurpassed in the mingling of violence and beauty, of the glorious and grotesque, that is her particular mood and theme.
Nelle Harper Lee (1926 – 2016), simply Harper Lee to millions across America, a Southern voice for decades based on her first book, To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. Her other book though written in the 1950s, Go Set a Watchman, did not see the light of day until 2015 and was published as a sequel to her Pulitzer Prize classic.
Harper Lee wrote what she knew best, the Deep South of the 1930s from a child’s point of view. Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama provided her with ample opportunities to portray the irrationality of adult attitudes in the racist culture that permeated the South.
A footnote worth mentioning: the character in her novel named Dill was based upon her real childhood friend, Truman Capote. What were the odds that little old Monroeville, Alabama would rear up both Truman Capote and Harper Lee? Today, Monroeville, Alabama entertains thousands of visitors who flock into town to get a glimpse at the old courthouse and homes that Harper Lee wrote about in To Kill a Mockingbird. Might I suggest you might want to visit the link below to learn more-http://www.southernliterarytrail.org/monroeville.html
A Southern Novel Nearly Gone With the Wind
After a broken ankle immobilized her in 1926, Margaret Mitchell began developing a manuscript that would become Gone With the Wind, ultimately published in 1936. The success of Gone With the Wind made her an instant celebrity and earned a Pulitzer Prize for Margaret Mitchell, and the famed film adaptation released three years afterward. Over 30 million copies of Mitchell’s Civil War masterpiece have been sold and translated into 27 languages. Tragedy struck in 1949 when Mitchell was struck by a car, leaving Gone With the Wind as her only novel.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Mitchell experienced tragic twists and turns; with the loss of her mother in 1918 and then four years later and four months after her wedding, her first husband abandoned the marriage. She wrote nearly 130 articles for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine during that troubled time. By 1925 with her first marriage officially annulled, Mitchell married John Robert Marsh who encouraged her writing during her recovery from a broken ankle in 1926. By 1929, she nearly finished her thousand page Civil War and Reconstruction era story – A romantic novel, written from a Southern woman’s point of view, steeped in the history of the South and the tragic outcome of
Rest of the story lies in what happened next…
However, the grand manuscript remained tucked away until 1935 until she reluctantly out of fear showed it to a traveling book editor, who visited Atlanta in search of new material, and the rest is history.
What motivated the book editor to leave his ivory-tower office in New York City?
Southern authors during the decades since earned a warmer reception from the dominant publishing houses as the appeal for Southern stories grew.
What Southern stories rest on your bookshelves at home as a testimony to their lasting imprint on our lives?
Sourced from Margaret Mitchell’s Biography.
Lightning bugs or fireflies, which is correct?
In the third upcoming installment of my inspirational Southern mystery series, little ol’ Shiloh will be hosting their annual Spring festival, but I have struggled in providing the right name for the festival.
I decided to put aside naming it the Shiloh Cotton or Peanut Festival – they usually are Fall events anyway after the harvest. Camilla, GA hosts their Gnat Days Festival; Thomasville, GA has their Rose Festival; Azaleas are celebrated in Valdosta, GA; Fire Ants are welcomed in Ashburn, Ga. So after researching all the Spring festivals in South Georgia, it’s come down to naming Shiloh’s annual Spring festival either the Lightning Bug or Firefly Festival. However, even Theo and Liddy are in disagreement about what to call them luminous nighttime critters…
According to a linguistic study conducted at NC State (see the map below), most of Georgia as well as throughout the peanut & cotton Deep South, its a coin flip which term is most prevalent, but, as Theo argues, most of the South refer to them critters as lightning bugs.
Help me to name Shiloh’s Spring Festival.
Are you a lightning bug lover or a firefly person?
Green areas – predominantly firefly; Blue areas – predominantly lightning bug; Pink areas – interchangeable with names.
Your feedback will help Shiloh name its Spring Festival!
If you haven’t read either Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories or Testament, An Unexpected Return, head over to the bookstore page and take advantage of the free shipping offer on the paperback editions.
Here are some photos and a video from a recent participation as a part of a troupe of authors participating in Alpharetta, GA for “A Novel Idea – Author Evening.”
Here’s Chapter Two from Testament, An Unexpected Return that I used in the reading to the audience Sunday night.
The First Page Matters in the Sensory Appeal Test
Right after a potential reader eyes your book cover, the next critical test to pique the interest of the reader is page one of the story. Does it beg the reader to read more?
For this reason, I begin and end writing and editing with the first page. Like in real life, “first impressions matter” in establishing relationships. We don’t often get many second chances. Neither do our books should the first impression fail to pique a curious reader’s interest.
As an independent author, my books do not have the advertising and promotional blitz advantage afforded by the top publishers hawking their stable of best-selling authors. T. M. Brown does not have the name recognition of best-selling authors, such as Grisham, Patterson, Baldacci, Karon, Blackstock, etc. Like the myriad of other new books published this year, the majority lacking the deep pockets and name recognition, success boils down to passing the sensory appeal test.
What is the sensory appeal test? Does the book cover stand out when on display amongst the notable NYC published best sellers, or does it shrink almost unnoticed, overshadowed by more noticeable book covers?
Maybe its the competitive nature within me, but I desire my books to compete among the notables, the best-sellers. I prefer my books to be on the eye level front shelves in the bookstore; not relegated to shelves set aside in the back of the store. Why is that important? Okay, T. M. Brown is not a household name in the literary world, but when my book covers are displayed beside notable names that readers seek, Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories and Testament, An Unexpected Return are exposed to more potential readers. BUT, now the senory appeal test begins.
When either of my book covers catches the eye of a perusing reader and they pause to slide the book off the shelf for a closer look, the reader’s keen senses in the next few seconds decide the fate of my book. Without the notoriety of the more familiar author Dan Brown, it is the front cover which then earns an extended feel of the book. Palmetto Publishing Group utilizes heavier stock paper to print its books, and it is noticeable to the feel. The reader then flips to the back cover and peruses the carefully edited snippets about the book. If the book cover has passed the initial sensory appeal test the reader invests another critical moment and thumbs through the pages before eyeing the first page. Those first 200 or so words reign supreme over the next few seconds as the reader weighs the quality of the content of this interesting new author’s novel. Should by chance the reader flip the page or closes the book but runs their hand over the cover once again, chances are a decision is underway. In that brief moment, the weight of the first page matters.
Now its your turn. What do you think? How much time do you give to selecting out a good novel to read? Are you narrowly focused on tried and tested bestsellers? Are you a reader who more often than not feels dissatisfied by the novels being hyped and peddled by the big New York City publishing houses. Sadly, there is more and more pressure for the assembly production of novels by the notable authors. They are easy to recognize because the author name takes up the top half of the front cover. They are promoting the author’s reputation, not the story inside.
So how do my books stack up? Do the first pages cause you to consider reading more?
To order either of these, if you are not able to find a copy at your local, go to TMBrownAuthor.com’s Bookstore Page
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(Click the hot link above to see the full interview at the ACFW webpage)
T. M. “Mike” Brown has recently released his second novel, Testament, the sequel to the award-winning, Sanctuary.
Welcome, Mike. What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
Life offers unexpected twists and turns, but God designed this roller coaster ride we refer to as life. At every twist and turn lies a choice to be made – some clear-cut and others not so much, but each decision usually rests between what is right and what may seem best. Whether what is right and what appears as best are compatible or in conflict, we should always trust what is right and allow God to use our circumstances for His glory, even if the choice embarks us onto an uncharted and uncertain path. It’s amazing how our faith strengthens when our future appears bleak, and shadows lurk at every turn we can see.
Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Never allow your judgment to be clouded by fancy promises and lots of smiles and friendly handshakes. Do your due diligence. The publishing journey entails what appears to be unwelcome pitstops and painful advice. There are no shortcuts to success. Embrace the pitstops and opinions provided, and invest in and trust your editor. Proofread before you submit to your publisher and again after they hand you the advance reader copy of your book. Take the extra time to proof carefully. It’s kinda like inspecting your child before his or her first prom dance.
How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
As a former preacher and teacher, my faith and spiritual walk played a sizable part in deciding my stories. I decided to write to the broad audience and use Southern small-town life as my setting so it would naturally interject some of my faith values and spiritual dilemma decision-making without preaching a good story. Those who have a firm church foundation will get a slightly different take on my stories than a non-churched reader. I have found this to be very accurate in book club discussions by the nature of the questions and responses shared. I am a firm believer that we should eagerly cross the bridge to meet people where they are at in life without casting judgment, and hopefully bonding on familiar ground. In the end, I pray those seeking God no matter their background will hear a message that helps them in their search.
On a quick note: The most memorable portions of the biblical narrative are not verbatim verses we struggle to memorize but the stories and parables we learn early in life that speak about God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.
What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
That is a tough one. Seems something new is around every corner. The celebrity aspect makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. However, a better answer would be the cumulative moments that have created memories of how my wife and family have been with me throughout the journey. Connie, my wife of the past 45 years, travels to every event and invests her talents to help make each event special for everyone we meet. For this reason, I believe the most significant moment of my writing/publishing lies yet around the next corner.
What have you learned from writing a sequel?
The sequel is always more comfortable to write than the first! There was so much I learned writing Sanctuary. First of all, I did not have a sequel in view when writing it. It wasn’t until some of my Beta readers urged me to write a sequel and my publisher then asked if I would consider it too. Thankfully, my editor and writing coach smiled and remained on board for the year it took to complete the sequel. A far cry from the nearly 2-1/2 years for the first.
What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I write what I know best. I love Southern time-lost towns. They offer the most intriguing settings and indeed the most entertaining character opportunities. Besides my father and his parents had country roots in Georgia, and through the writing of my stories I reconnected and recognized why my father raised us as he did through my siblings and me were raised in suburban settings and far from the countryside he used to talk about. I miss my father and grandfather but found in writing my stories many long-forgotten memories, and tall-tales about our family surfaced and became a part of my stories.
You have a significant amount of Biblical, theological, and literary history featured in the background story for Sanctuary. How did this passion for history come about?
One cannot look to the future without knowing where you have traveled from. I learned at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy, you plot your ship’s course beginning from where you’ve traveled to where you want to go. My love for history is quite the same. If you neglect the past, you’ll most likely make the same mistakes and continue to wander off course. In seminary, I majored in Church History which has helped me to teach biblical studies from the position of knowing the context of the biblical passages to understand and apply the content to life today. In Testament, I added more history to my little town of Shiloh because I believe, what has played out in the past ultimately shapes what and why the future reveals. It is writing the context to explain the content of the present story…
What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
My grandkids will read my stories more readily than my biblical writing and sermons, or any of my expository papers about my beliefs. So, as I said above, my wife reminded me the value of stories and parables which planted the seed for what turned out to become the Shiloh mystery stories.
Of course, someday I may sit down and rewrite to publish some of my biblical studies as I had planned, but for now, I’m enjoying entering lil’ ol’ Shiloh with all its colorful and quirky characters whispering in my head nearly every day. Besides, I can work through Dr. Arnie Wright, Shiloh’s Baptist preacher boy, to communicate valuable messages I’d like to share.
How do you feel the setting a small town differs from a more suburban or urban setting? What do small towns offer that the suburbs might not?
That’s easy. Faith, family, food, and yes, even football have a life of its own in a small southern town. Church-life is more social and connected by bonds of multi-generational families. Country cooking is the grease that spins tall-tales faster and spreads gossip further. Maybe it’s the sweet tea, peach cobbler, fried chicken, smoked ribs, grits, and handmade biscuits. Of course, cooking in the kitchen is an art, a way of life in the country that suburbanites or citified folks just don’t rightly understand. In the small-towns, life just moves at its own pace, and it’s the seasons, the sun rising and setting, and the weather that dictates what any particular day holds. In small-towns, knowing other people’s business ain’t being nosey, it’s just neighborly. As a result, there are less locked doors and more handshakes shared in small towns.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Sharing time with my family, mainly my five grandkids. They’re growing up faster with each new day. When not with the grandchildren, Connie and I enjoy our expanding author network and find opportunities to help other aspiring writers when we can.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
Baldacci’s, The Fix right now, but Terry Kay’s, The Kidnapping of Aaron Greene is next up. Of course, my reading takes second place to my writing so I don’t read as much as I would like.
Finish this statement: In the future, I will…
Hopefully look down from heaven and smile as my granddaughter shares the book her “Poppy” wrote with her granddaughter. She’ll laugh as she points to where she makes her cameo appearances in my stories along with her brothers and cousins, and of course, “Grammy” too.
Any parting words?
Enjoy the journey on which you are engaged. Laugh at yourself and with others. Success is a journey, not a destination, and comes sans any shortcuts. Allow God the final word on all decisions you get to make in life.
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having an active imagination and a flair for the dramatic. Today, she has honed those skills to become an award-winning author and speaker who works in the health & wellness and personal development industries, helping others become their best from the inside out. She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have a daughter and son, and a Shiba Inu-mix named Nova. She has sold over 20 books so far, three of which have won annual reader’s choice awards. She is represented by Tamela Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. www.amberstockton.com.
Go to the bookstore tab to order your copy of either or both novels. Available in Kindle or Paperback. You can also email me to discover the nearest indie bookstore to you to get your copies as well.
Follow the link to learn the inspriation behind my Shiloh Mystery novels…