Walker's first book of poetry was written while she was a senior at Sarah Lawrence. She took a brief sabbatical from writing while working in Mississippi in the civil rights movement. Walker resumed her writing career when she joined Ms. magazine as an editor before moving to northern California in the late 1970s. Her 1975 article "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston", published in Ms. magazine, helped revive interest in the work of Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston inspired Walker's writing and influenced her subject matter. In 1973, Walker and fellow Hurston scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered Hurston's unmarked grave in Ft. Pierce, Florida. The women chipped in to buy a modest headstone for the gravesite.
In addition to her collected short stories and poetry, Walker's first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland– which follows the life of Grange Copeland, an abusive, irresponsible sharecropper, father, and husband– was published in 1970. In 1976, Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published. Meridian is a “semiautobiographical narrative based upon Walker’s experience in the 1960s… [it] is her retrospective on the social, racial, and sexual upheavals that the Civil Rights and Black Power eras produced.” The novel dealt with activist workers in the South during the civil rights movement, and closely paralleled some of Walker's own experiences.
In 1982, Walker published what has become her best-known work, The Color Purple. The novel follows a young troubled black woman fighting her way through not just racist white culture but patriarchal black culture as well. The book became a bestseller and was subsequently adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg featuring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as a 2005 Broadway musical totaling 910 performances.
Walker is the co-founder of Wild Tree Press, a feminist publishing company in Anderson Valley, California. She and fellow writer Robert L. Allen founded it in 1984.
Walker has written several other novels, including The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy (which featured several characters and descendants of characters from The Color Purple). She has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other writings. Her work is focused on the struggles of black people, particularly women, and their lives in a racist, sexist, and violent society. Walker is a leading figure in liberal politics.
In 2007, Walker donated her papers, consisting of 122 boxes of manuscripts and archive material, to Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. In addition to drafts of novels such as The Color Purple, unpublished poems and manuscripts, and correspondence with editors, the collection includes extensive correspondence with family members, friends and colleagues, an early treatment of the film script for The Color Purple, syllabi from courses she taught, and fan mail. The collection also contains a scrapbook of poetry compiled when Walker was 15, entitled "Poems of a Childhood Poetess."
In 2013, Alice Walker released two new books, one of them entitled The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm's Way. The other was a book of poems entitled The World Will Follow Joy Turning Madness into Flowers (New Poems).