Winfrey discussed the novel and upcoming movie-musical in her speech at the 74th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner
Oprah Winfrey paid tribute to a particularly influential story.
At the 74th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner, held Wednesday in New York City, Winfrey, 69, discussed the importance of diverse books and "all those young people out there who found their voices in books written for them or by them” in a speech.
“I'm talking about the readers who picked up The Color Purple 40 years ago and found the kind of truth that I found in those pages,” she said before quoting a passage from the book.
Winfrey is a producer of the upcoming movie musical based on Alice Walker’s 1982 novel, which stars Halle Bailey, Taraji P. Henson and Jon Batiste. The film arrives in theaters on Dec. 25, and is an adaptation of the stage musical. Winfrey also played the character Sofia in the original 1985 film, which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Walker made history when, in 1983, she became the first Black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Color Purple. Winfrey reiterated in her speech the many ways the novel — which also won the 1983 National Book Award for Fiction — has been adapted throughout the years, culminating with “the movie version of that musical opening this Christmas at a theater near you.”
“That is the power of a story well told,” she said. “Thank you Alice Walker.”
The National Book Awards, which is viewed as one of the most prestigious U.S. literary prizes, recognizes outstanding authors across fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature and young people's literature. Winfrey was honored as a special guest and former Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton hosted the ceremony. Initial host Drew Barrymore had her invitation rescinded when she came under criticism after announcing her plans to resume her talk show before the SAG-AFTRA strike ended earlier this year.
In her speech, Winfrey also spoke of the origins of Oprah’s Book Club and how it has impacted her. Winfrey and her daytime talk show’s producer, Alice McGee, originally had their "own private book exchanges" before McGee suggested that Winfrey start an official club.
“I said, ‘Alice, you cannot do a show with authors who write fiction because the audience is not going to know what we're talking about,’” Winfrey recalled. “And she said, ‘They will if you give them time to read the book.’ And 27 years and 103 Book Club Picks later, I am grateful for the sense of safety, the sense of purpose and growth that this community has given me.’”
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Winfrey also recognized other books that have stood out to her over the years, such as Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Winfrey mentioned that Angelou’s novel helped her to understand the sexual abuse she experienced as a child.
Before ending her speech, she touched upon the importance of the right to read.
“Let us vow to keep our books right where they belong, in reach of everyone to choose for themselves what to read because that, dear friends, is called freedom,” she said.
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