|Whoopi Goldberg as Celie in The Color Purple|
The Color Purple (1982)
by Alice Walker
The Color Purple was not the first book to depict the experience of African American women, but it was arguably the most successful narrative depiction of that experience, likely because of the Whoopi Goldberg/Oprah Winfrey starring movie version. Not to take anything away from the book, but the movie created an indelible, iconic image in the mind of the general public. The Color Purple is often called an epistolary novel (a novel written in letter format) but it's really a hybrid of epistolary style and straight forward third party narration.
The scenes of Celie's life in the rural South are contrasted with the life of her sister as a missionary in West Africa. The southern part of the novel is similar to other (not necessarily southern set) books written by Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison in the 1970's, but Walker introduces a level of stylistic sophistication that was maybe lacking in the more straight forward narrative of the 1970's.
Perhaps the most unusual fact about The Color Purple in terms of the canon is that it has a happy ending, almost unheard of for "serious" literature, and maybe grounds for questioning whether it is truly canonical, especially compared to Caged Bird, Sula and Song of Solomon.