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.
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.
New York Times critic-at-large, surveys nearly 40 years of cultural grappling in this insightful account of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel The Color Purple ... Tillet recounts the novel’s history, covering the controversy it stirred up when published, notably for its 'use of a black dialect and its celebration of lesbianism.' Tillet’s passionate insights successfully imbue a classic novel with modern relevance.