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Who Is Alice Walker? High School English Lesson

By Sarah Degnan Moje

Born in 1944, Alice Walker was the eighth child of sharecroppers in Georgia. While in college, she decided to become a writer, and themes in her writing often focus on the oppression of African-American woman. Introduce this author to your class through analyzing several of her poems.

Alice Walker, 1989 Before beginning a study of the novel The Color Purple, it is a great idea to have students take a close look at the author, and even engage in an “author study” using some of her poetry before moving on to her novel. In that way, students are already familiar with the over-arching themes of her writing before they begin to take a close look at the characters on the page, now made famous by both a movie and a musical.

Alice Walker is much more than the creator of that memorable character Celie. Although best known for this novel, her life and her poetry all speak to the oppression of women, especially African-American women, and offer insight and advice to women from all cultures who have been oppressed, especially by abusive men. Miss Walker is an inspiration to women of all ages, races and cultures and as such, it is imperative that students devote some time to studying this American author and poetess.

Before beginning her novel, take a look at three of Walker’s poems. In my class I used the poems Be Nobody's Darling, Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit, and Torture. These are all available online at poemhunter.com.

Put students in groups of three and use the overview power point on Walker as a starting point. Then, give each group of three one of her poems to read and discuss. Have them jot down what they “see” when they read the poem. After a time, switch poems amongst the groups until each group has read and ‘seen” each poem.

Then, have your groups of students make poetry pictures, using collage materials or their own drawings, depicting what they saw in each of Walker’s poems. Have students submitted their work to you, with the poem titles on the back. Display all over the room and have students discuss each picture, and see if they can correctly identify the poem the picture captures. This innovative project will help students to better “see” all the symbolism when they begin to read Walker’s novel.