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May 22, 2018 02:12 PM

Gabrielle Union is opening up about the book that played a key role in helping her move forward after she was raped as a teenager.

“I first read The Color Purple when I was 19,” the Breaking In actress, 45, says in an exclusive clip from PBS’s The Great American Read. “I had been raped and I found myself trying to go from victim to survivor.”

Union detailed her horrific experience in her 2017 memoir, We’re Going to Need More Wine. She was beginning her sophomore year of college at UCLA when she was raped at gunpoint by a stranger in the Payless store where she worked.

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As she struggled in the aftermath — she wrote in her book that she didn’t leave her home for a year other than to go to court or therapy — Union’s mother recommend she pick up Alice Walker’s classic novel about a black sharecropper’s daughter who was raped and beaten by the man she believed to be her father.

“It gave me my hope, it gave me inspiration, it gave me a passageway out,” Union says. “Watching Seely’s evolution was so transformative. … Alice Walker did not sensationalize or sugarcoat the violence of rape, and that inspired me to be very clear and brutally honest.”

Union adds poetically, “The person that was raped at 19 died that day. And who came up out of the ashes, the rose that bloomed out of concrete, is the smarter, stronger, braver, more resilient person. To put it simply, it was a book that saved my life.”

RELATED VIDEO: Gabrielle Union’s Heartbreaking Struggle With Infertility: ‘I’ve Had 8 or 9 Miscarriages’

The Great American Read, hosted by Meredith Vieira, features interviews with celebrities, authors, and more discussing America’s 100 favorite novels. It premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on PBS.

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