Walker’s personal life and his life as a writer cannot be separated. There are drafts of poems, speeches, comments about the people she meets, her friends and her enemies. Envy and jealousy are big hitters in his circles. And then there is his family. She could surpass Dickens for a demanding family. But, like him, she continues to give because, like him, she feels responsible for them. And for the world. Change and reform drive Walker.
Walker wanted beauty, but she also wants to move her reader elsewhere. The early and necessarily elevated diary of a driven young woman are the entries that will eventually become controversy The purple color. This, and Spielberg’s film adaptation, made Walker one of America’s hottest women. Black women had written novels before, but none had won awards, none had such a cinematic interpretation. The diaries trace the genesis of this complicated romance, beginning with Walker’s own family history.
Her parents were sharecroppers in Georgia, they lived in various “horrible shacks”, and the family stories of neglect and abuse as well as love and courage were more complicated than most. Or maybe for black families they weren’t. Walker was still early and she had already been published, but with The purple color, her precise ear for language, an original imagination and a politico-feminist conscience collided and were coherent. She had found her voice and she had a unique intimacy.
The first entry dates to June 1965, when Walker, 21 and a student at the prestigious, majority-white Sarah Lawrence College in New York City, considered getting involved in the civil rights campaign in the South. Four years later, she is deeply involved. His credentials are impeccable. She also keeps tabs on what she thinks and what she might write, observes that Tom Wolfe’s dialogue is “wooden” (hooray!), and how to discipline herself with “patience and precision” to be able to turn a page white into something worth reading.