Constructing “The Color Purple”

Screenshot (585)“I don’t always know where the germ of a story comes from, but with The Color Purple I knew right away. I was hiking through the woods with my sister Ruth, talking about a lovers’ triangle of which we both knew. She said: ‘And you know one day The Wife asked The Other Woman for a pair of her drawers.’ Instantly the missing piece of the story I was mentally writing–about two women who felt married to the same man–fell into place.  And for months– through illnesses, divorce, several moves, travel abroad, all kinds of heartaches and revealations–I carried my sister’s comment delicately balanced in the center of the novel’s construction I was building in my head…

…Just as summer was ending, one or more of my characters–Celie, Shug, Albert, Sofia, or Harpo–would come for a visit. We would sit wherever I was sitting, and talk. They were very obliging, engaging, and jolly. They were, of course, at the end of their story but were telling it to me from the beginning. Things that made me sad often made them laugh. Or, we got through that; don’t pull such a long face, they’d say. Or, You think Reagan’s bad, you ought’ve seen some of the rednecks us come up under. The days passed in a glaze of happiness.”

In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, “Writing the Color Purple,” Alice Walker, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1983.