In Search of The Color Purple: The Story of an American Masterpiece

Abrams. Jan. 2021. 224p. ISBN 9781419735301. $26. LIT
In this moving narrative, Tillet (English, Rutgers–Newark; Sites of Slavery) explores how The Color Purple (1982) shaped and continues to shape readers. For the author, this involved traveling to Northern California to speak with Walker about her National Book Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning book and interviewing figures such as Gloria Steinem, who wrote the foreword to this work. Walker tells of basing the character of Celie on her grandmother along with the difficulties of critics misinterpreting the intent of her words. What also emerges is a personal recounting of how Tillet discovered The Color Purple, notably, how she resonated with Celie, as a teenager recovering from sexual assault, while Shug embodied who she wanted to become. This is the strength of the work, as is Tillet reminding readers of the criticism The Color Purple received upon publication as well as ongoing challenges from libraries because of its portrayals of lesbianism and sexual assault. Later, Tillet considers the lasting impact of the 1985 film and 2005 musical based on the book, including Walker’s thoughts on both.
VERDICT Tillet writes a necessary account of how Walker’s centering the lives of Black women has transformed literature. Accessibly written, this book will engage both longtime fans and those new to Walker’s writing.
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