Alice Walker on Censorship

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Guernica interviews Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple and one of the most censored contemporary writers, in honor of Banned Books Week.

The Color Purple has been voted off school curriculums and out of school libraries many times since its publication in the early 1980s. Many more of her short stories and essays that touch on incendiary topics such as race, religion, and sexuality have also been removed from reading lists across the country. However, Walker has also participated in the censoring of her writing by refusing to allow Spielberg’s film version of The Color Purple to run in apartheid South Africa and has more recently refused to have the book translated into Hebrew as a part of a cultural embargo against Israel’s treatment of Palestine.

Walker spoke about the writer’s ethical mission, which need be upheld despite the powers that be:

Great Literature is help for humans. It is medicine of the highest order. In a more aware culture, writers would be considered priests. And, in fact, I have approached writing in a distinctly priestess frame of mind. I know what The Color Purple can mean to people, women and men, who have no voice. Who believe they have few choices in life. It can open to them, to their view, the full abundance of this amazing journey we are all on. It can lift them into a new realization of their own power, beauty, love, courage. It is a book that unites the present with the past, therefore giving people a sense of history and of timelessness they might never achieve otherwise. And even were it not ‘great’ literature, it has the best interests of all of us humans at heart. That we grow, change, challenge, encourage, love fiercely in the awareness that real love can never be incorrect.


Graham Todd is an intern at The Rumpus. He spends his mornings writing post-apocalyptic, vaguely biblical sci-fi horror comedy, his evenings tutoring the wide-eyed youth of the Palo Alto area, and his Thursdays at The Rumpus office, effectively “off the streets”. Beyond this weekly ritual, he enjoys karaoke, the movies, and jogging. More from this author →