Segments in this Video

Introduction to Margaret Walker & Her Work (02:01)


Experts describe Margaret Walker and situate her work in the African-American literary tradition. Walker, herself, recites her famous poem, "For My People."

Walker's Imagery (00:57)

Images are central to Margaret Walker's poetry. One expert contrasts her work with more "radical" African-American writers'.

Youth & Early Influences (01:57)

Walker grew up idealizing poetry but learned one didn't have to be "special" to be a poet. Raised in Montgomery, Walker was inspired and encouraged by her family, as well as by the black intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance, with whom she became personally acquainted in her teenage years.

College Years: Personal & Professional Awakening (02:00)

Walker went to Northwestern University, where W.E.B. Du Bois became the first to publish one of her poems. Her poem, "I Want to Write," announces her ambition to write the stories of her people, a goal that intensified while she lived in Chicago. She earned a spot with the Federal Writers' Project, part of the Works Progress Administration.

Richard Wright's Influence & Social Conscience in Walker's Work (02:02)

Richard Wright's friendship, knowledge of black sociology, and Marxist philosophy had a profound impact on Walker. She began making socioeconomic and political arguments in her poetry. She wrote "For My People" at age 22.

Meaning in Walker's Work (00:45)

Walker has been on a lifetime search for "meaning," which she always attempts to find in writing her poems.

Early Praise, Yale Younger Poets Prize, & the Beginning of a Career (01:26)

In 1940, Walker submitted a collection of poetry to Stephen Vincent Benét, who believed she could do something unprecedented with her work. Her poems voiced the collective memory of African-Americans. She was the first African-American to win the Yale Younger Poets prize, which kicked off her career.

Combating Racism Through Writing (00:59)

Walker was determined to combat racism by refuting stereotypical images of black people and by resisting pressure to alleviate white discomfort.

Complicated Relationship with the South (01:39)

Walker recites part of "Delta," a poem about her environment. All her work relates to the south, in what some call a love-hate relationship. She recites "Sorrow Home," which addresses racial violence and oppression in the south. Walker chose to live and work in the south for her entire career.

Love, Marriage, & Family (01:16)

Walker married Firinist Alexander and had 4 children, all the while pursuing a teaching and writing career. She recites part of "Love Song for Alex."

"Jubilee" (02:21)

Walker's seminal pursuit was her novel, "Jubilee," based on stories passed down from her grandmother and centered around themes of human resilience. "Jubilee" took Walker 30 years to complete and has since been translated into different languages and reprinted many times over.

Element of Rhythm in Walker's Life & Work (01:18)

Experts praise the structure and rhythm in Margaret Walker's poetry. The rhythm, which is inspired by ballads and blues, impacts the reader's attention and experience.

Teaching Career & Identity Through the Arts (01:38)

Walker grew up revering a career in education. She imparted to her students a thirst for knowledge and believed in making art a part of one's life.

Social Activism (01:55)

Walker's commitment to the African-American experience included her establishment of Institute for the Study of the History, Life, and Culture of Black People at Jackson State. She became a vocal activist in, and outside of, her writing.

Mentoring the Next Generation of Women Writers (01:14)

Walker acted as a mentor to young women writers, many of whom went on to have noteworthy careers. She organized a conference of black female writers to honor Phyllis Wheatley.

Margaret Walker's Legacy (02:07)

Walker's work spans genres and generations. She felt poetry was a powerful force in her own life and desired to transmit that force to others. She believed in a life guided by hope and the responsibility for making change.

Credits: For My People: The Life And Writing Of Margaret Walker (00:48)

Credits: For My People: The Life And Writing Of Margaret Walker

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For My People: The Life And Writing Of Margaret Walker

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Margaret Walker has been described by Nikki Giovanni as the “most famous person nobody knows.” Walker established one of the first Black Studies centers in the nation, was mentored by Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois, and her signature poem, “For My People,” set a tone and a level of commitment to which African-American writers have been responding ever since. Narrated by Ruby Dee, this biographical film combines conversations with Walker, readings from her poetry, and commentary from leading scholars to make a powerful argument for the centrality of her work to contemporary American literature. (28 minutes)

Length: 27 minutes

Item#: BVL49754

Copyright date: ©1998

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“Highly recommended for American literature collections, poetry collections, and Black Studies collections, high school level and up.”  —Educational Media Reviews Online

“I can’t contain my excitement over this long-overdue tribute to an exemplary life. Margaret Walker single-handedly turned poetry upside down with her declaration of love and her challenge to the future of her people.”  —Nikki Giovanni

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