The first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for The Color Purple—which also won the National Book Award and was adapted into both an award–winning film starring Whoopi Goldberg and a Tony Award–winning Broadway musical—New York Times–bestselling author Alice Walker is without question “one of [our] best American writers” (The Washington Post). Before her success with The Color Purple, Walked penned the two powerful and unforgettable novels collected here.
Meridian: This “classic novel of both feminism and the Civil Rights movement” is the story of Meridian Hill, who, as she approaches the end of her teen years, has already married, divorced, and given birth to a son (Ms. Magazine). She’s looking for a second chance, and at a small college outside Atlanta, Georgia, in the early 1960s, she becomes involved in the Civil Rights movement. So fully does the cause guide her life that she’s willing to sacrifice virtually anything to help transform the conditions of a people whose subjugation she shares.
“Beautifully presented and utterly convincing.” —The New Yorker
“A fine, taut novel . . . Remarkable.” —The New York Times Book Review
The Third Life of Grange Copeland: In Walker’s debut novel, Grange Copeland, a deeply conflicted and struggling tenant farmer in the Deep South of the 1930s, leaves his family and everything he’s ever known to find happiness and respect in the cold cities of the North. This misadventure, his “second life,” proves a dismal failure that sends him back where he came from to confront his now-grown-up son’s disastrous relationships with his own family, including Grange’s granddaughter, Ruth Copeland, a child Grange grows to love. Love becomes the substance of his third and final life. He spends it in devotion to Ruth, teaching and protecting her—though the cost of doing so is almost more than he can bear.
“[A] splendid novel.” —Chicago Tribune
“A solid, honest sensitive tale . . . leavened by those moments of humor and warmth that have enabled men and women to endure so much tragedy.” —Chicago Daily News
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About the Author
Alice Walker (b. 1944), one of the United States’ preeminent writers, is an award-winning author of novels, stories, essays, and poetry. In 1983, Walker became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her novel The Color Purple, which also won the National Book Award. Her other novels include The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, The Temple of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. In her public life, Walker has worked to address problems of injustice, inequality, and poverty as an activist, teacher, and public intellectual.
Date of Birth:February 9, 1944
Place of Birth:Eatonton, Georgia
Education:B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1965; attended Spelman College, 1961-63
Read an Excerpt
The Last Return
TRUMAN HELD DROVE SLOWLY into the small town of Chicokema as the two black men who worked at the station where he stopped for gas were breaking for lunch. They looked at him as he got out of his car and lifted their Coca-Colas in a slight salute. They were seated on two boxes in the garage, out of the sun, and talked in low, unhurried voices while Truman chewed on a candy bar and supervised the young white boy, who had come scowling out of the station office to fill up the car with gas. Truman had driven all night from New York City, and his green Volvo was covered with grease and dust; crushed insects blackened the silver slash across the grill.
"Know where I can get this thing washed?" he called, walking toward the garage.
"Sure do," one of the men said, and rose slowly, letting the last swallow of Coke leave the bottle into his mouth. He had just lifted a crooked forefinger to point when a small boy dressed in tattered jeans bounded up to him, the momentum of his flight almost knocking the older man down.
"Here, wait a minute," said the man, straightening up. "Where's the fire?"
"Ain't no fire," said the boy, breathlessly. "It's that woman in the cap. She's staring down the tank!"
"Goodness gracious," said the other man, who had been on the point of putting half a doughnut into his mouth. He and the other man wiped their hands quickly on their orange monkey suits and glanced at the clock over the garage. "We've got time," said the man with the doughnut.
"I reckon," said the other one.
"What's the matter?" asked Truman. "Where are you going?"
The boy who had brought the news had now somehow obtained the half-doughnut and was chewing it very fast, with one eye cocked on the soda that was left in one of the bottles.
"This town's got a big old army tank," he muttered, his mouth full, "and now they going to have to aim it on the woman in the cap, 'cause she act like she don't even know they got it."
He had swallowed the doughnut and also polished off the drink. "Gotta go," he said, taking off after the two service station men who were already running around the corner out of sight.
The town of Chicokema did indeed own a tank. It had been bought during the sixties when the townspeople who were white felt under attack from "outside agitators" — those members of the black community who thought equal rights for all should extend to blacks. They had painted it white, decked it with ribbons (red, white, and of course blue) and parked it in the public square. Beside it was a statue of a Confederate soldier facing north whose right leg, while the tank was being parked, was permanently crushed.
The first thing Truman noticed was that although the streets around the square were lined with people, no one was saying anything. There was such a deep silence they did not even seem to be breathing; his own footsteps sounded loud on the sidewalk. Except for the unnatural quiet it was a square exactly like that in hundreds of small Southern towns. There was an expanse of patchy sunburned lawn surrounding a brick courthouse, a fringe of towering pine and magnolia trees, and concrete walks that were hot and clean, except for an occasional wad of discarded chewing gum that stuck to the bottoms of one's shoes.
On the side of the square where Truman now was, the stores were run-down, their signs advertising tobacco and Olde Milwaukee beer faded from too many years under a hot sun. Across the square the stores were better kept. There were newly dressed manikins behind sparkling glass panes and window boxes filled with red impatiens.
"What's happening?" he asked, walking up to an old man who was bent carefully and still as a bird over his wide broom.
"Well," said the sweeper, giving Truman a guarded look as he clutched his broom, supporting himself on it, "some of the children wanted to get in to see the dead lady, you know, the mummy woman, in the trailer over there, and our day for seeing her ain't till Thursday."
"That's what I said."
"But the Civil Rights Movement changed all that!"
"I seen rights come and I seen 'em go," said the sweeper sullenly, as if daring Truman to disagree. "You're a stranger here or you'd know this is for the folks that work in that guano plant outside town. Po' folks."
"The people who don't have to work in that plant claim the folks that do smells so bad they can't stand to be in the same place with 'em. But you know what guano is made out of. Whew. You'd smell worse than a dead fish, too!"
"But you don't work there, do you?"
"Used to. Laid off for being too old."
Across the square to their left was a red and gold circus wagon that glittered in the sun. In tall, ornate gold letters over the side were the words, outlined in silver, "Marilene O'Shay, One of the Twelve Human Wonders of the World: Dead for Twenty-Five Years, Preserved in Life-Like Condition." Below this, a smaller legend was scrawled in red paint on four large stars: "Obedient Daughter," read one, "Devoted Wife," said another. The third was "Adoring Mother" and the fourth was "Gone Wrong." Over the fourth a vertical line of progressively flickering light bulbs moved continually downward like a perpetually cascading tear.
Truman laughed. "That's got to be a rip-off," he said.
"Course it is," said the sweeper, and spat. "But you know how childrens is, love to see anything that's weird."
The children were on the opposite side of the square from the circus wagon, the army tank partially blocking their view of it. They were dressed in black and yellow school uniforms and surrounded somebody or something like so many bees. Talking and gesticulating all at once, they raised a busy, humming sound.
The sweeper dug into his back pocket and produced a pink flier. He handed it to Truman to read. It was "The True Story of Marilene O'Shay."
According to the writer, Marilene's husband, Henry, Marilene had been an ideal woman, a "goddess," who had been given "everything she thought she wanted." She had owned a washing machine, furs, her own car and a fulltime housekeeper-cook. All she had to do, wrote Henry, was "lay back and be pleasured." But she, "corrupted by the honeyed tongues of evildoers that dwell in high places far away," had gone outside the home to seek her "pleasuring," while still expecting him to foot the bills.
The oddest thing about her dried-up body, according to Henry's flier, and the one that — though it only reflected her sinfulness — bothered him most, was that its exposure to salt had caused it to darken. And, though he had attempted to paint her her original color from time to time, the paint always discolored. Viewers of her remains should be convinced of his wife's race, therefore, by the straightness and reddish color of her hair.
Truman returned the flier with a disgusted grunt. Across the square the children had begun to shuffle and dart about as if trying to get in line. Something about the composition of the group bothered him.
"They are all black," he said after a while, looking back at the sweeper. "Besides, they're too small to work in a plant."
"In the first place," said the sweeper, pointing, "there is some white kids in the bunch. They sort of overpower by all the color. And in the second place, the folks who don't work in the guano plant don't draw the line at the mamas and papas, they throw in the childrens, too. Claim the smell of guano don't wash off.
"That mummy lady's husband, he got on the good side of the upper crust real quick: When the plant workers' children come round trying to get a peek at his old salty broad while some of them was over there, he called 'em dirty little bastards and shoo 'em away. That's when this weird gal that strolled into town last year come in. She started to round up every one of the po' kids she could get her hands on. She look so burnt out and weird in that old cap she wear you'd think they'd be afraid of her — they too young to 'member when black folks marched a lot — but they not."
Catching his breath, Truman stood on tiptoe and squinted across the square. Standing with the children, directly opposite both the circus wagon and the tank, was Meridian, dressed in dungarees and wearing a light-colored, visored cap, of the sort worn by motormen on trains. On one side of them, along the line of bright stores, stood a growing crowd of white people. Along the shabby stores where Truman and the sweeper stood was a still-as-death crowd of blacks. A white woman flew out of the white crowd and snatched one of the white children, slapping the child's shoulders as she hustled it out of sight. With alarm, Truman glanced at the tank in the center of the square. At that moment, two men were crawling into it, and a phalanx of police, their rifles pointing upward, rushed to defend the circus wagon.
It was as if Meridian waited for them to get themselves nicely arranged. When the two were in the tank and swinging its muzzle in her direction, and the others were making a line across the front of the wagon, she raised her hand once and marched off the curb. The children fell into line behind her, their heads held high and their feet scraping the pavement.
"Now they will burst into song," muttered Truman, but they did not.
Meridian did not look to the right or to the left. She passed the people watching her as if she didn't know it was on her account they were there. As she approached the tank the blast of its engine starting sent a cloud of pigeons fluttering, with the sound of rapid, distant shelling, through the air, and the muzzle of the tank swung tantalizingly side to side — as if to tease her — before it settled directly toward her chest. As she drew nearer the tank, it seemed to grow larger and whiter than ever and she seemed smaller and blacker than ever. And then, when she reached the tank she stepped lightly, deliberately, right in front of it, rapped smartly on its carapace — as if knocking on a door — then raised her arm again. The children pressed onward, through the ranks of the arrayed riflemen up to the circus car door. The silence, as Meridian kicked open the door, exploded in a mass exhalation of breaths, and the men who were in the tank crawled sheepishly out again to stare.
"God!" said Truman without thinking. "How can you not love somebody like that!"
"Because she thinks she's God," said the old sweeper, "or else she just ain't all there. I think she ain't all there, myself."
"What do you mean?" asked Truman.
"Listen," said the man, "as far as I'm concerned, this stuff she do don't make no sense. One of my buddies already done told me about this mummified white woman. He says she ain't nothing but a skeleton. She just got long hair that her ol' man claims is still growing. That fool sets up breshin' it every night." He snorted and sucked his two remaining side teeth.
"Just because he caught her giving some away, he shot the man, strangled the wife. Throwed 'em both into Salt Lake. Explained everything to the 'thorities up there and they forgive him, preacher forgive him, everybody forgive him. Even her ma. 'Cause this bitch was doing him wrong, and that ain't right!"
He poked Truman in the ribs. "That ain't right, is it?"
"No," said Truman, who was watching Meridian.
"Well sir, years later she washed up on shore, and he claimed he recognized her by her long red hair. He'd done forgive her by then and felt like he wouldn't mind having her with him again. Thought since she was so generous herself she wouldn't mind the notion of him sharing her with the Amurican public. He saw it was a way to make a little spare change in his ol' age."
Another poke in the ribs. A giggle.
"He drags her around from town to town, charging a quarter to see her. Course we don't have to pay but a dime, being po' and smelly and all. I wouldn't pay nothing to see her, myself. The hussy wasn't worth a dime."
The schoolchildren were passing in and out of the wagon. Some adult blacks had joined the line. Then some poor whites.
"Her casket though!" said the old sweeper. "They tell me it is great. One of those big jobs made of metal, with pink velvet upholstery and gold and silver handles. Cost upwards of a thousand dollars!"
The crowd, by now, had begun to disperse. The last of the children were leaving the wagon. Meridian stood at the bottom step, watching the children and the adults come down. She rested one foot on the rail that ran under the wagon and placed one hand in her pocket. Truman, who knew so well the features of her face, imagined her slightly frowning from the effort to stand erect and casually, just that way.
"Her name's Meridian," Truman said to the sweeper.
"You don't know her personally?" asked the sweeper in sympathy.
"Believe it or not," he said.
The door to Meridian's house was not locked, so Truman went in and walked around. In the room that contained her sleeping bag he paused to read her wallpaper — letters she had stuck up side by side, neatly, at eye level. The first contained Bible verses and was written by Meridian's mother, the gist of which was that Meridian had failed to honor not just her parents, but anyone. The others were signed "Anne-Marion" (whom Truman knew had been Meridian's friend and roommate in college) and were a litany of accusations, written with much viciousness and condescension. They all began: "Of course you are misguided ..." and "Those, like yourself, who do not admit the truth ..." and "You have never, being weak and insensitive to History, had any sense of priorities ...," etc. Why should Meridian have bothered to keep them? On some she had gamely scribbled: "Yes, yes. No. Some of the above. No, no. Yes. All of the above."
Above and below this strip of letters the walls were of decaying sheetrock, with uneven patches of dried glue as if the original wallpaper had been hastily removed. The sun through a tattered gray window shade cast the room in dim gray light, and as he glanced at the letters — walking slowly clockwise around the room — he had the feeling he was in a cell.
It was Meridian's house — the old sweeper had pointed it out to him — and this was Meridian's room. But he felt as if he were in a cell. He looked about for some means of making himself comfortable, but there was nothing. She owned no furniture, beyond the sleeping bag, which, on inspection, did not appear to be very clean. However, from his student days, working in the Movement in the South, he knew how pleasant it could be to nap on a shaded front porch. With a sigh of nostalgia and anticipation, Truman bent down to remove his hot city shoes.
"How was I to know it was you?" he asked, lying, when her eyes opened. He could not have walked up to her in front of all those people. He was embarrassed for her.
"Why, Che Guevara," she said dreamily, then blinked her eyes. "Truman?" He had popped up too often in her life for her to be surprised. "You look like Che Guevara. Not," she began, and caught her breath, "not by accident I'm sure." She was referring to his olive- brown skin, his black eyes, and the neatly trimmed beard and moustache he'd grown since the last time she saw him. He was also wearing a tan cotton jacket of the type worn by Chairman Mao.
"You look like a revolutionary," she said. "Are you?"
"Only if all artists are. I'm still painting, yes." And he scrutinized her face, her bones, which he had painted many times.
"What are you continuing to do to yourself?" he asked, holding her bony, ice-cold hand in his. Her face alarmed him. It was wasted and rough, the skin a sallow, unhealthy brown, with pimples across her forehead and on her chin. Her eyes were glassy and yellow and did not seem to focus at once. Her breath, like her clothes, was sour.
Four men had brought her home, hoisted across their shoulders exactly as they would carry a coffin, her eyes closed, barely breathing, arms folded across her chest, legs straight. They had passed him without speaking as he lay, attempting to nap, on the porch, placed her on her sleeping bag, and left. They had not even removed her cap, and while she was still unconscious Truman had pushed back her cap as he wiped her face with his moistened handkerchief and saw she had practically no hair.
"Did they hurt you out there?" he asked.
"They didn't touch me," she said.
"You're just sick then?"
"Of course I'm sick," snapped Meridian. "Why else would I spend all this time trying to get well!"
"You have a strange way of trying to get well!"
But her voice became softer immediately, as she changed the subject.
"You look just like Che," she said, "while I must look like death eating a soda cracker." She reached up and pulled at the sides of her cap, bringing the visor lower over her eyes. Just before she woke up she had been dreaming about her father; they were running up and down steep green hills chasing each other. She'd been yelling "Wait!" and "Stop!" at the top of her lungs, but when she heard him call the same words to her she speeded up. Neither of them waited or stopped. She was exhausted, and so she had woke up.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Meridian and The Third Life of Grange Copeland"
Copyright © 2018 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
THE THIRD LIFE OF GRANGE COPELAND,
A Biography of Alice Walker,