Black History Month: “The Color Purple”

Alice Walker’s 1982 novel “The Color Purple” won the Pulitzer Prize, and has been made into a movie and musical. Centering on the story of Celie, a woman who is abused and made powerless, largely because of her gender and the color of her skin, the novel moves toward her finding strength with the help of other women.

Here’s an excerpt from a review on the African American Literature Book Club Web site:

Alice Walker once told an interviewer, “The black woman is one of America’s greatest heroes. . . . She has been oppressed beyond recognition.”

The Color Purple is the story of how one of those American heroes came to recognize herself recovering her identity and rescuing her life in spite of the disfiguring effects of a particularly dreadful and personal sort of oppression. The novel focuses on Celie, a woman lashed by waves of deep trouble—abandonment, incest, physical and emotional abuse—and tracks her triumphant journey to self-discovery, womanhood, and independence. Celie’s story is a pointed indictment of the men in her life—men who betrayed and abused her, worked her like a mule and suppressed her independence—but it is also a moving portralt of the psychic bonds that exist between women and the indestructible nature of the human spirit.

The story of Celie is told through letters: Celie’s letters to God and her sister Nettle, who is in Africa, and Nettle’s letters to Celie. Celie’s letters are a poignant attempt to understand her own out-of-control life. Her difficulties begin when, at the age of fourteen, she is raped by her stepfather, who then apparently sells away the two children born of that rape. Her sister Nettle runs away to escape the abuse, but Celie is married off to Albert, an older man that she refers to simply as “Mr.” for most of the novel. He subjects her to tough work on his farm and beats her at his whim. But Celie finds the path to redemption in two key female role models: Sophia, an independent woman who refuses to be taken advantage of by her husband or any man, and Shug, a sassy, independent singer whom Albert loves. It is Shug who first offers Celie love, friendship, and a radically new way of looking at life.

The complete review is here.

Thanks to Barbara Smith, author and member of the Albany Common Council, for her suggestion.

From Playbill, about the making of the musical version of the novel:

The one-hour documentary “The Color Purple: The Color of Success,” about the making of the Broadway musical The Color Purple, will premiere on the cable channel TV One Feb. 18 from 8 PM to 9 PM.

“The Color Purple: The Color of Success” looks behind the scenes at the development of the musical and follows the story’s path from book to film to Broadway. The documentary includes interviews with Alice Walker, the original novelist, Quincy Jones, a producer of the film and the musical, and others involved with the work.

The documentary debuted on TV One’s video on demand service on Feb. 5. After its premiere Feb. 18, it will replay later that night at midnight, plus on Feb. 20 at noon, Feb. 22 at 11 AM and March 3 at noon. TV One is a cable channel aimed at African-American adults.

Some other links:

BBC audio interviews.

The previous authors and writings featured on this blog:
“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano”
Gwendolyn Brooks
August Wilson
“Our Nig” by Harriet Wilson
“Twelve Years A Slave” by Solomon Northup
“The Souls of Black Folks” by W.E.B. Du Bois
Langston Hughes
“Cane” by Jean Toomer
“The Great Negro Plot” by Mat Johnson
“Passing” by Nella Larsen
“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X”
“I Have a Dream” speech”
“Sula” by Toni Morrison
“The Known World” by Edward P. Jones


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