March 1, 2021

Salamishah Tillet

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes SALAMISHAH TILLET—renowned writer, activist, and professor of African American Studies and Creative Writing at Rutgers University–Newark—for a discussion of her latest book, In Search of the Color Purple: The Story of Alice Walker’s Masterpiece. She will be joined in conversation by RÉGINE JEAN-CHARLES, associate professor of French and African and African Diaspora Studies at Boston College.


Alice Walker made history in 1982 when she became the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Color Purple. Published in the Reagan era amid a severe backlash to civil rights, the Jazz Age novel tells the story of racial and gender inequality through the life of a 14-year-old girl from Georgia who is haunted by domestic and sexual violence.

Prominent academic and activist Salamishah Tillet combines cultural criticism, history, and memoir to explore Walker’s epistolary novel and shows how it has influenced and been informed by the zeitgeist. The Color Purple received both praise and criticism upon publication, and the conversation it sparked around race and gender still continues today. It has been adapted for an Oscar-nominated film and a hit Broadway musical.

Through archival research and interviews with Walker, Oprah Winfrey, and Quincy Jones (among others), Tillet studies Walker’s life and how themes of violence emerged in her earlier work. Reading The Color Purple at age 15 was a groundbreaking experience for Tillet. It continues to resonate with her—as a sexual violence survivor, as a teacher of the novel, and as an accomplished academic.

Provocative and personal, In Search of The Color Purple is a bold work from an important public intellectual, and captures Alice Walker’s seminal role in rethinking sexuality, intersectional feminism, and racial and gender politics.

About Author(s)

Salamishah Tillet is a scholar, cultural critic, and activist. A professor at Rutgers University–Newark and previously a professor of English and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, she is a contributing critic-at-large for the New York Times. With her sister, she cofounded A Long Walk Home, a Chicago-based national nonprofit that uses art to empower young people to end violence against girls and women. She lives in New Jersey.

Dr. Régine Michelle Jean-Charles is a feminist literary scholar and activist who has been working on issues surrounding rape culture for the past 20 years. She is currently Associate Professor of French and African and African Diaspora Studies at Boston College. Her first book, Conflict Bodies: The Politics of Rape Representation in the Francophone Imaginary examines theoretical, visual, and literary texts in order to challenge the dominant views of sexual violence. Her second academic book Looking for Other Worlds: Black Feminism, Literary Ethics, and Haitian Fiction is currently under contract with University of Virginia Press. Her book A Trumpet of Conscience for the 21st Century: King’s Call to Justice is forthcoming with Orbis Press in 2021.