Emory Report
January 14, 2008
Volume 60, Number 15

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January 14, 2008
Author’s archives come home

By Carol Clark

Even as Emory archivist Elizabeth Russey was packing up documents and letters from the file cabinets in Alice Walker’s Berkeley, Calif. home, the Georgia-born novelist and poet was bringing out more items, including a quilt that she hand-stitched as she was completing her most famous novel, “The Color Purple.”
“She came downstairs where I was working and said, ‘You can have this, too,’” recalled Russey, manuscript processing archivist with the Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library. “It’s a beautiful quilt, full of reds and purples.”

The archive that Walker entrusted to Emory in December took up 122 boxes. “It’s one of the best archives I’ve ever seen,” said Russey, a specialist in African-American history. “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, which honored “The Color Purple.” Walker has written most 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, as well as the quest for inner and world peace.Often considered controversial for her portrayals of racial, gender and sexual issues, Walker is widely recognized for her thoughtful weaving of realism with love for humanity and human potential.

“I chose Emory to receive my archive because I myself feel at ease and comfortable at Emory,” said Walker, a native of Eatonton, Ga. and 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.”

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

The completeness of Walker’s archive makes it 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 14 or 15 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, and for creating poetry.”

“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. “Walker is one of Georgia’s most beloved writers, and it is particularly gratifying that she has chosen to return her archive to the state where she was born, to the city where she attended college as an undergraduate, and to Emory which has, in the intervening years, become a major research center in literary studies.”

Walker’s literary archive at Emory joins a world-class repository of some of the finest collections of modern literature; 20th century American, British and Irish poetry; and an extensive collection on the American South.