Tillet, who is a professor of African-American studies and creative writing at Rutgers University and a contributing critic at The New York Times, offers up a history of The Color Purple, from novel to film to Broadway musical, with an emphasis on how sexism within the Black community—and the white establishment’s preference to frame racial injustice in terms of concerns facing Black men—stood between The Color Purple and recognition as 'an American masterpiece.' For Tillet, Walker’s novel strikes a personal chord ... Tillet powerfully puts forward The Color Purple controversy as an example of how Black women have been asked to silence their own pain to supposedly serve the greater cause of racial uplift. Threaded throughout these attacks on The Color Purple is the idea that the danger of reinforcing stereotypes about Black male sexuality is too great to allow room for Black women to have justice ... Unlike Tillet, however, I am not convinced that the alternative would produce a chorus of people claiming The Color Purple a 'masterpiece.' For my part, I find it aesthetically awkward, and many of the relationships, particularly the friendships between women, still feel to me like they were shoehorned into second-wave feminist narratives about solidarity. That such a conversation—about the art itself—feels marginal to The Color Purple and its place within literary history is just another frustrating example of how little room the world gives Black women not just to succeed but also to fail—artistically and morally.
[An] elegy of appreciation of Alice Walker’s genius through the Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Color Purple, which tells stories of redemption and triumph over gendered and racist violence ... Exploring the long and complex arc of the Black literary legacy that came alive in Walker’s prose, Tillett notes influences from the Black oral tradition to the writings of Zora Neale Thurston ... The book highlights interviews with movement leaders and celebrity icons who were awakened and inspired by the power of Walker’s prose, from Oprah Winfrey to Quincy Jones, from Scott Sanders to Steven Spielberg.
A close look at the genesis, impact, and transformation of a beloved novel ... Melding memoir, biography, and cultural criticism, Tillet, a professor, activist, and scholar of African American studies, uses Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple , published in 1982, as a mirror for portraying Black women’s experiences in American life over nearly 40 years ... It was precisely Walker’s portrayal of violence to which Tillet, twice a victim of sexual assault, responded, and through her research, she found many others. An enriching study for the novel’s many devoted readers.