Writer and activist Alice Walker (b. Feb. 9, 1944) made history as the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her seminal novel The Color Purple (1982), for which she won the National Book Award. American Masters presents Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, premiering nationally tonight, February 7 at 9 p.m. on PBS in honor of Walker’s 70th birthday and Black History Month. Filmmaker Pratibha Parmar’s new documentary tells Walker’s dramatic life story with poetry and lyricism, and features new interviews with Walker, Steven Spielberg, Danny Glover, Quincy Jones, Gloria Steinem, Sapphire and the late Howard Zinn in one of his final interviews.
American Masters — Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth charts Walker’s inspiring journey from her birth into a family of sharecroppers in Eatonton, Georgia, to the present. The film explores Walker’s relationship with her mother, poverty, and participation in the Civil Rights Movement, which were the formative influences on her consciousness and became the inherent themes in her writing. Living through the violent racism and seismic social changes of mid-20th century America, Walker overcame adversity to achieve international recognition as one of the most influential — and controversial — writers of the 20th century.
Delving into her personal life, Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth reveals the inspiration for many of her works, including Once (1968), The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), Meridian (1976), The Color Purple (1982), In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1983), Possessing the Secret Joy (1992) and Overcoming Speechlessness (2010).
What is left out of the series involves her relationship with her daughter. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Walker had this to say:
Absent, but much discussed and seen in photographs, is Walker’s estranged daughter, Rebecca Walker. The younger Walker has denounced her mother for neglecting her and for trying to convince her that “raising children and running a home were a form of slavery.” The two have had little communication in recent years.
“I came very low down in her priorities,” Rebecca wrote in 2008, “after work, political integrity, self-fulfillment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.”
In the documentary and during her interview, Alice Walker expressed hurt and bafflement over the rift, saying that she and her daughter had been close for much of their lives, a point of view supported by Steinem and Parmar. The author said she had been reluctant to discuss her daughter in public, but changed her mind.
“It was a way to clarify, as far as I was able, what my own position is in what really is a disaster,” Walker said. “You bring children into the world. You love them with heart and soul. But, as (author) Tillie Olsen told me, ‘You have your own children and do the best you can, until they are able to get out in the world. And then the world takes over.'”
Asked if she expected her daughter would see the film, Walker said, “I’m sure she will. I think she’d be very interested, at least on some level.”
American Masters presents Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, premieres tonight Friday, February 7 at 9 p.m