Top of page

A small person looks at a large book with images representing Black history.
Credit: Composite by Naomi Wulansari/U.S. Copyright Office, using licensed Shutterstock images

Celebrating African Americans and the Arts: The Color Purple

Share this post:

Since its initial observation in the United States in 1976, Black History Month is a dedicated occasion to celebrate the achievements, contributions, culture, and history of African Americans.

Every year, the Copyright Office takes this opportunity to recognize the impact of Black artists and their creations as well as the significant role that the copyright system plays in protecting them. As part of this year’s celebration, we reflect on the legacy of Alice Walker and her book The Color Purple, which Walker registered with the Office in 1982.

Computer screen showing copyright registration information for Alice Walker's book The Color Purple.
Credit: HSSstudio/Shutterstock

Featured in the Copyright Office exhibit Find Yourself in Copyright, The Color Purple explores the trials and triumphs of Black women in the 1930s rural South. Applauded for uniquely weaving together themes of African American and feminist literature, the novel won the National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983, making Walker the first Black woman to receive the prize.

In an interview with ArtsATL, Walker said that, as she was forced to the back of the bus as she went off to Spelman College, she thought “enough of this already,” and that she could do something to fight the racism her parents thought they’d have to endure forever. Walker transferred to Sarah Lawrence College, and after graduation, moved to Mississippi and got involved in the civil rights movement. These experiences influenced her writing and inspired the story in The Color Purple. The book follows the story of Celie, a Black teenage girl in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. The story unfolds partially through Celie’s letters to God as she navigates her troubled life of abuse at the hands of her father and then from her husband.

The book has inspired film and musical adaptations, known as derivative works, of the same name. The movie, released in 1985 and directed by Steven Spielberg, was nominated for eleven Academy Awards. The musical premiered on Broadway in 2004 and has seen success in productions in the United States and around the world. Most recently, in 2023, The Color Purple was adapted into a derivative film as a period drama musical, further incorporating elements from the original book, film, and musical.

In addition, Walker has authored many novels, short story collections, and volumes of poems. Her most recent work, Gathering Blossoms Under Fire, is a collection of her journals, and the registration for the audiobook is also in the Office’s public records. With translations into more than two dozen languages, her works have sold more than fifteen million copies. Along with her Pulitzer Prize, Walker was awarded the Mahmoud Darwish Literary Prize for Fiction, was one of the inaugural inductees into the California Hall of Fame (in The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts), and was awarded the Lennon/Ono Peace Grant.

Three fists in the air representing Black solidarity and power.
Credit: KieferPix/Shutterstock 

Walker is a trailblazer who continues to inspire African American creators. The Copyright Office aims to broaden public awareness of what the copyright system encompasses and how to participate. A cornerstone of our current strategic plan is Copyright for All, and the Office dedicates itself to making the copyright system as understandable and accessible to as many members of the public as possible. This year’s Black History Month theme of Celebrating African Americans and the Arts aligns with this goal.




Comments (2)

  1. This is Awesome!

  2. Las personas afro en Colombia sienten la relación en sus vidas entre la invisibilidad estadística y la dificultad para acceder a sus derechos fundamentales. No es casual que justamente los departamentos con mayorías de población étnica y racializada tengan los más altos índices de pobreza y necesidades básicas insatisfechas.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. Your submission may be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.