Winter 2008: Of Note

a true original: Alice Walker’s original manuscript of The Color Purple and a hand-stitched quilt she made while writing the novel are now part of the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory. Walker’s archive also includes journals she has kept since adolescence, early drafts of works, and letters to and from her editors.

Kay Hinton

Quilt of Many Colors

Alice Walker archive to be placed at Emory

In the novel The Color Purple, quilting embodies creativity, strength, endurance, and hope. Important messages are woven into the artful designs, preserved for future generations. So it is with the writings of Alice Walker herself, which will now reside in Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). The Georgia-born author donated 122 boxes of her personal papers to the University in December.

In good company: Alice Walker has selected Emory as the place where her personal archive can “rest with joy in the company it keeps.” Walker was the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Jimmy Zhou/The Emory Wheel

Appropriately enough, a brightly colored quilt that Walker hand stitched as she was completing her famous novel will become part of the archive as well.

“She came downstairs where I was working and said, ‘You can have this, too.’ It’s a beautiful quilt, full of reds and purples,” says Elizabeth Russey, manuscript processing archivist with MARBL, who traveled to Walker’s home in Berkeley, California, to assist the author in packing up her file cabinets.

In all, says Russey, a specialist in African American history, Walker’s archive “is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It documents all parts of her life—the professional as well as the personal, and how each informed the other.”

In 1983 Walker became the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Walker has written frequently about the struggle for survival among Southern blacks, particularly black women. She also has given literary voice to the struggle for human rights, environmental issues, social movements, and spirituality. “I chose Emory to receive my archive because I myself feel at ease and comfortable at Emory,” said Walker, a native of Eatonton and a Spelman College alumna. “I can imagine in years to come that my papers, my journals, and letters will find themselves always in the company of people who care about many of the things I do: culture, community, spirituality, scholarship, and the blessings of ancestors who want each of us to find joy and happiness in this life by doing the very best we can to be worthy of it.”

When Walker first began considering where to place her archive, Emory was not on her list. “However, having visited several libraries at different universities,” she said, “I realized the importance to me of a lively, diverse, committed-to-human-growth atmosphere that when I visited Emory, I found.”

Walker’s archive is truly exceptional, said Rudolph Byrd, professor of American studies and a founding member of the Alice Walker Literary Society. “The archive contains journals that she has been keeping since she was fourteen or fifteen years old,” said Byrd, a friend and colleague of Walker’s. “There also are drafts of many of her early works of fiction, as well as the back and forth between Alice and the editors for each book. Her papers give you a sense of the process for creating fiction.”

The Alice Walker Archive will provide a major bridge in the University’s collections on African American literature, history, and culture, said MARBL Director Steve Enniss.

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Winter 2008

Of Note