Alice Walker, The Color Purple, 1982

The Color Purple penguin book cover
The Color Purple, Alice Walker,
Published 2017, Readings

"You better not never tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy.

Dear God,

I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me."

In the opening pages of Alice Walker’s classic 1982 novel The Color Purple, we read a letter written by 14-year-old Celie, detailing the sexual abuse she experiences by the man she calls ‘father’. When Celie is separated from her sister Nettie and forced to marry a cruel and abusive farmer, her letters to both God and Nettie sustain her hope for her sister’s future, despite the barriers of distance, time, and silence. As this epistolary novel unfolds, the lives and experiences of Black women living in the American South reveal the power of female relationships, and the complicated dynamics of race, sexuality, and violence. This powerful feminist story explores a journey of self-realisation, empowerment, and self-worth, breaking the silence on domestic violence, and centring the resilience, bravery, and companionship of Black women.

The Color Purple has become a cornerstone of African-American literature and intersectional feminist writing. Walker was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983, becoming the first African-American woman to receive this honour. The novel has also been highly controversial for its portrayal of incest, child rape, and domestic violence in Black communities, and for perpetuating the image of Black men as violent and sexually aggressive – an accusation that reached its zenith upon its adaptation to film in 1985, and its subsequent banning from schools across the United States. 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of the book and in this masterclass, we consider its significant legacy.

Kalissa Alexeyeff headshot

Dr Kalissa Alexeyeff

Kalissa Alexeyeff is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences in the Faculty of Arts. Kalissa’s research focuses on gender, culture and global change. She works across gender studies and anthropology with particular expertise in the gender, sexuality and performance in cross cultural contexts. She has conducted research in transnational Polynesian communities for over twenty-five years and is the author of Dancing from the Heart: Movement, Gender and Cook Islands Globalisation (2009), co-editor of Gender on the Edge: Gay, Transgender and Other Pacific Islanders (2014, with Niko Besnier) and Touring Pacific Cultures (2016, with John Taylor).