ATLANTA - Even from a young age, author Alice Walker was keeping a record.
The Georgia native began storing her notebooks, journals and photos as a teenager, creating a personal archive spanning 40 years that paints a vivid picture of her development as a writer. The yellowing letters and fading photographs tell a story of a woman who found a mentor in activist and writer Howard Zinn, doodled short stories in between her college class notes, and was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction writing.
Now, that catalog is open to the public at Emory University in Atlanta, where Walker is placing her archive. "My father taught me that you have to keep records, because if you don't, it can be said nothing happened," Walker said last week. "I took that to heart."
The exhibition opened Thursday with a two-day symposium featuring feminist Gloria Steinem and Zinn, among others, discussing the impact of Walker's writing. Her work has spotlighted the struggle of Southern blacks, particularly women, and she has traveled the globe speaking out for human rights.
The Emory collection starts with a picture of Walker at age 6, taken where she grew up in rural Eatonton, Ga., before the accident two years later that made her blind in one eye. And it travels through her days at Spelman College in Atlanta and Sarah Lawrence College in New York, her time as a civil-rights worker in Mississippi, her marriage to a white, Jewish lawyer, and her work on The Color Purple, for which she won the Pulitzer and a National Book Award in 1983.
The collection's crowning jewels are the original handwritten copy of The Color Purple and a bright-red-and-purple quilt that Walker made while she wrote the novel.
"For the reading public," said Emory professor Rudolph Byrd, cofounder of the Alice Walker Literary Society, "it means that for the first time, we will have access to one of the richest archives in the nation by a living writer."
Walker's archive joins a collection of literary papers at Emory from such writers as James Weldon Johnson, Seamus Heaney, Salman Rushdie, and Flannery O'Connor. Walker said she chose Emory because Georgia was her home and she liked Emory's progressive attitude toward the study of other cultures and religions.