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Author Margaret Walker Alexander dies at 83
(November 30, 1998)
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On Being Female, Black, and Free: Essays by Margaret Walker, 1932-1992
(August 1997)

Margaret Walker Alexander


Margaret Walker Alexander
Margaret Walker Alexander

Margaret Walker Alexander, best known for her neo-slave narrative Jubilee and the poem “For My People,” was born Maragret Abigail Walker on July 7, 1915, in Birmingham, Alabama. Encouraged by her parents, Reverend Sigismund and Marion Dozier Walker, Margaret read much poetry and philosophy as a young child. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree at Northwestern University in 1935, and in 1936 began working with the Federal Writer’s Project along with writers such as Frank Yerby and Gwendolyn Brooks. A few years later, she would meet and become acquaintances with Richard Wright; the two would work together on several of his texts—in 1988, she published Richard Wright, Daemonic Genius: A Portrait of the Man, a Critical Look at His Work.

She completed her master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Iowa in 1942, which is when she was also awarded the Yale Award for Young Poets for “For My People.” She then became a professor at Jackson State University; in 1966, Alexander published Jubilee, the life story of a slave daughter. Two years after receiving critical acclaim for Jubilee, she founded the Institute for the Study of the History, Life and Culture of Black People in 1968. She worked as the director of the program for 11 years; later, it would be renamed in her honor. Ms. Walker then toured, lectured, and worked on For Farish Street Green, February 27, 1986 (1986) and This is My Century: New and Collected Poems (1989).

In 1988 Ms. Walker sued author Alex Haley, alleging that his book Roots infringed on Jubilee’s copyright; the case was dismissed from court.

Among Ms. Walker’s awards are the Rosenwald Fellowship (1944), a Senior Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1972), and the WHite House Award for Distinguished Senior Citizen. She died in Chicago of cancer on November 30, 1998. She was 83 years old.

Jon Tucker

Article first posted April 1999

Related Links & Info

Margaret Walker Alexander
Margaret Walker Alexander was among the Southern writers who were photographed by David G. Spielman for the book Southern Writers, text by William W. Starr, Foreword by Fred Hobson (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997)

The Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center at Jackson State University is a national resource for collecting, preserving, and interpreting 20th Century African American History though living memories, archival records, material culture, and the built environment.



  • Jubilee. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966.


  • A Poetic Equation: Conversations Between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker. Washington: Howard University, 1974.
  • Richard Wright, Daemonic Genius: A Portrait of the Man, A Critical Look at His Work. New York: Warner Books, 1988. How I Wrote Jubilee and Other Essays on Life and Literature. Ed. Maryemma Graham. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1990.
  • On Being Female, Black, and Free: Essays by Margaret Walker, 1932-1992. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997.


  • For My People. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1942.
  • The Ballad of the Free. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1966.
  • Prophets for a New Day. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1970.
  • October Journey. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1973.
  • For Farish Street Green, February 27, 1986. Jackson, Mississippi: 1986.
  • This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.


Articles, Interviews, and Criticism:

  • Allego, Donna M. The Construction and Role of Community in Political Long Poems by Twentieth-Century American Women Poets: Lola Ridge, Genevieve Taggard, Joy Davidman, Margaret Walker, and Muriel Rukeyser. Dissertation Abstracts International 58 (1997): 3521.
  • Barksdale, Richard K. “Margaret Walker: Folk Orature and Historical Prophecy.” Black American Poets between Worlds, 1940-1960. Ed. R. Baxter Miller. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986. 104-17.
  • Bonetti, Kay. “An Interview with Margaret Walker Alexander.” Missouri Review 15.1 (1992): 112-31.
  • Bonetti, Kay. “Margaret Walker.” Conversations with American Novelists: The Best Interviews from The Missouri Review and the American Audio Prose Library. Eds. Kay Bonetti, et al. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997. 170-83.
  • Caton, Bill. “Margaret Walker Alexander.” Fighting Words: Words on Writing from 21 of the Heart of Dixie’s Best Contemporary Authors. Eds. Bill Caton and Bert Hitchcock. Montgomery, Ala.: Black Belt. 1995.
  • Collier, Eugenia. “Fields Watered with Blood: Myth and Ritual in the Poetry of Margaret Walker.” Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Ed. Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor-Doubleday, 1984. 499-510.
  • Edwards, Michael Le Roy. The Rhetoric of Afro-American Poetry: A Rhetorical Analysis of Black Poetry and the Selected Poetry of Margaret Walker and Langston Hughes. Dissertation Abstracts International. 41 (1980): 1835A. 1980.
  • Egejuru, Phanuel, and Robert Elliot Fox. “An Interview with Margaret Walker.” Callaloo: A Black South Journal of Arts and Letters 2.2 (1979):
  • Freibert, Lucy M. “Southern Song: An Interview with Margaret Walker.” Frontiers — a Journal of Women Studies 9.3 (1987): 50-56.
  • Giddings, Paula. “‘A Shoulder Hunched Against a Sharp Concern’: Some Themes in the Poetry of Margaret Walker.” Black World 21.2: 20-25.
  • Graham, Maryemma. “The Fusion of Ideas — An Interview with Margaret Walker Alexander.” African American Review 27.2 (Summer 1993): 279-86.
  • Keizs, Marcia Veronica. The Development of a Dialectic: Private and Public Patterns in the Work of Margaret Walker and Gwendolyn Brooks. Dissertation Abstracts International 45 (1985): 2528A.
  • Miller, R. Baxter. “The ‘Etched Flame’ of Margaret Walker: Biblical and Literary Re-Creation in Southern History.” Tennessee Studies in Literature 26 (1981): 157-72.
  • Pettis, Joyce. “Margaret Walker: Black Woman Writer of the South.” Southern Women Writers: The New Generation. Ed. Tonette Bond Inge. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990. 9-19.
  • Rowell, Charles. “History and Humanism: An Interview with Margaret Walker.” Black World 25.2 (1975): 4-17.
  • Tate, Claudia. “Margaret Walker.” Black Women Writers at Work. Ed. Claudia Tate. New York: Continuum, 1983. 188-204.
  • Torrence, Juanita Marie McFalls. A Literary Equation: A Comparison of Representative Works of Margaret Walker and Nikki Giovanni. Dissertation Abstracts International 40 (1980): 6283A-84A.
  • Traylor, Eleanor. “Music as Theme: The Blues Mode in the Works of Margaret Walker.” Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Ed. Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor-Doubleday, 1984. 511-25.
  • Ward, Jerry W., Jr. “A Writer for Her People: An Interview with Dr. Margaret Walker Alexander.” Mississippi Quarterly 41.4 (Fall 1988): 515-27.

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