See also Hurston, Zora Neale; Morrison, Toni; Woolf, Virginia.
Margaret Walker was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1915. She completed her undergraduate work at Northwestern University at only age nineteen and later studied creative writing at the University of Iowa where she received her MA degree in 1942. Her first volume of poetry, For My People, won her the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. She completed her PhD degree at University of Iowa in 1965.
She married and had four children with Firnist James Alexander. Walker has taught at colleges and universities throughout the South, but held a long-term appointment at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, from 1946 until 1979. Throughout and following her teaching career, Walker has continued to write in several genres. Her body of work includes Richard Wright: Daemonic Genius (1988), This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems (1989), How I Wrote Jubilee and Other Essays (1990), as well as her important novel Jubilee (1966).
Given the obstacles she faced, it is a wonder that Walker wrote at all. Her essays tell of the difficulties she had in finding time to write, juggling her family, home, and career. The prejudices she faced as a woman, as a black woman, and as a Southerner are staggering. Though she labored for decades in higher education, her external successes exacerbated her tenuous relationships with administrators and colleagues.
Walker says she had three aims in writing Jubilee: “(1) to hew to the line of my simple folk story during the war, (2) to maintain historical accuracy and to relate the importance of the war to my characters, plus (3) to point up the significance of the Negro people and their role during the war.”
Margaret Walker's Jubilee is a sweeping historical novel based on the oral history of her own family and prodigious amounts of research. The novel centers on the character Vyry, the unacknowledged child of the plantation master, John Dutton. Vyry is patterned after Walker's own great-grandmother. From her earliest days on the plantation in Dawson, Georgia, to the ending of the book when she is a woman who has lived through “birth and death, flood and fire, sickness and trouble” (408-9), Vyry triumphs in body and spirit over seemingly insurmountable circumstances.