Tayari Jones writes:
Some novels contain characters–folks that can live only within the confines of a book–but The Color Purple features people–folks that exit the pages and move in with you like relatives from out of town. We know that a work has thoroughly permeated the culture when the names of the characters become a complex shorthand. I have a friend who calls me “Celie” after the down-but-not-out heroine of Alice Walker’s masterpiece. In return, I call her “Nettie” to let her know that we are like sisters. When a woman turns the table on an abusive spouse, she is said to have “got all Sophia on him.” And when you can figure out how to be strong and sexy at the same time, then you’re in Shug Avery territory.
Alice Walker walked through the fire to give us The Color Purple. Essence magazine is said to have refused to run an excerpt, and Ishmael Reed led the charge to brand her as a man-hater. Literary discussions inspired by the novel often devolved into shouting matches, split along gender lines. Nevertheless, like Celie herself, Alice Walker persisted. The Color Purple was adapted into a film that I have seen no fewer that a dozen times. Sometimes, late at night, someone in the twitterverse will condense a meaningful scene into 140 characters: “I may be black. I may be ugly. But I’m here.” Shortly thereafter that one message will be re-tweeted all over the place by those of us who want the world to know that we, too, are still here–in the world, and on the pages of an enduring classic work of American literature.