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Naylor, Gloria 1950–

Gloria Naylor 1950

Writer

King Assassination Shifted Life Course

Shattered Stereotypes

Explored the Spiritual

Concluded her Apprenticeship

Selected writings

Sources

Since her first novel was published in 1982, Gloria Naylor has become one of the most critically acclaimed and popular black writers. Along with Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, she is one of the key forces in the black feminist literary movement. At the same time, Naylor has avoided criticism leveled at her fellow black feminist writers for their negative depictions of black men.

Gloria Naylor was born on January 25, 1950, in New York, New York. Reading became a passion for Naylor at a young age, mostly due to her mothers influence. Alberta Naylor struggled to obtain books because, in rural Mississippi, African Americans were barred from taking them out of public libraries. After moving with her family to New York in 1949, she made sure her children got an early introduction to the wonders of reading, and Gloria was given her first library card around age four. She read voraciously throughout her childhood, partly because she was intro verted and spent a lot of time alone. Since she rarely spoke, her mother gave her a diary that became an early training ground for the future writer.

King Assassination Shifted Life Course

An excellent student, Naylor was placed into advanced classes in high school. Her first exposure to English classics helped shape the foundation of her later writing efforts. The passion of the Bront&Spell Errors, the irony of Jane Austen, and the social indignation of Dickens fed my imagination as I read voraciously, she said in the New York Times Book Review. However, her evolution as a writer was stalled during her senior year in high school as a result of Martin Luther King, Jr.s assassination. Kings death had a major impact on Naylor, leaving her bewildered about the black community and her own future. Her search for meaning led her to serve as a missionary for the Jehovahs Witnesses in New York, North Carolina, and Florida for the next seven years.

Naylor left the mission at age 25 and went back to school. As she wrote in the New York Times, I had used that religion as a straitjacketfor my budding sexuality, for my inability to accept the various shadings of lifewhile doing it and myself an injustice. After taking nursing courses at Medgar Evers College, she transferred to Brooklyn College to pursue her interest

At a Glance

Born on January 25, 1950, in New York, NY; daughter of Roosevelt (a transit worker) and Alberta (McAlpin) Naylor (a telephone operator). Education: Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, BA in English, 1981; Yale University, MA in Afro-American Studies, 1983.

Career: Jehovahs Witnesses, missionary, 1968-75; worked as telephone operator at Sheraton City Square and other hotels, New York City, 1975-81; writer, 1981-; Cummington Community of the Arts, writer-in-residence, 1983; George Washington University, visiting lecturer, 1983-84; Callaloo, contributing editor, 1984; United States Information Agency, India, cultural exchange lecturer, 1985; University of Pennsyl-vania, scholar in residence, 1986; New York University, visiting professor, 1986; New York Times, columnist, 1986; Princeton University, visiting lec-turer, 1986-87; Boston University, visiting professor, 1987; Book-of-the-Month Club, judge, 1988; Brandeis University, Fannie Hurst Visiting Professor, 1988; One Way Productions, founder and president, 1990-.

Awards: American Book Award, for The Women of Brewster Place, 1983; NEA Fellowship Natl Endowment for the Arts, 1985; Guggenheim Fellowship 1988; Lillian Smith Award, 1989.

Addresses: Office One Way Productions, 638 2nd St, Brooklyn, NY, 11215. Phone: (718) 965-1031.

in English literature. She helped pay for her schooling by working the night shift as a switchboard operator at various New York City hotels.

College was a pivotal time for Naylor. While there her black consciousness, especially as a black woman, began taking form and compelled her to explore her creative powers. Her eyes were opened greatly by reading the works of black female authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Drawing on these authors as role models, Naylor found her stride as a writer and was recognized for her talent soon after she began writing fiction. One of the first short stories she penned appeared in a 1980 issue of Essence, and before long she had a contract with Viking.

Naylors first group of stories evolved into a novel, much of which she wrote while still working at hotel switchboards. The end result was The Women of Brewster Place, a saga of seven women of different ages, backgrounds, and lifestyles and how they confronted poverty, racism, sexism, and domestic strife both alone and together. Highly symbolic, the novel is set on a dead-end street that is cut off from accepted society by an ugly brick wall, much as blacks are pushed into ghettos by white society. One character yearns to see her fugitive son again. Another lives on the edge, then meets a man who is even more daring than she. Naylor covered the entire gamut of human experience, from Kiswana Browne, who defects from a comfortable middle-class existence to ally with the people of the street, to Cora Lee, whose overriding passion is the care of her beloved babies.

Shattered Stereotypes

Chief among Naylors goals in The Women of Brewster Place was to shatter stereotypes about black women and demonstrate that their experience is as varied as that of whites. She also wanted to show the resilience of the downtrodden in overcoming tough circumstances. The Women of Brewster Place was both a critical and popular success. Publishers Weekly called it a remarkable first novel from a gifted black writer [that] marks Gloria Naylors talent as one to watch. The novel appeared on the Publishers Weekly trade paperback best-seller list, and was later made into a television movie starring Oprah Winfrey.

Naylors next novel, Linden Hills was published in 1985. Featuring some of the same characters as her first novel, Linden Hills was set in a well-to-do black suburb that would have been considered a major move upward by the residents of Brewster Place. Critical consensus regarded this novel as much more adventurous and broader in scope than Naylors first book. Throughout, Naylor made the point that attempting to rise in the ranks of white-dominated society through economic means results in a shallow victory. The book was cited for its obvious parallels to Dantes Inferno, as two male poets, Lester and Willie, come in from another town in search of work and make their way through a series of drives that ring the suburban development in a fashion similar to Dantes nine circles of hell. As the twosome venture down the hill, they meet those who have moved up in society. More or less cast in the role of the devil is Luther Nedeed, a local mortician and real estate mogul whose family has reigned at the top of the Linden Hills hierarchy for over 150 years.

Lester and Willie discover a series of lost souls yearning for a piece of the American dream, which ultimately cannot give them the fulfillment for which they yearn. Victims of Nedeeds carefully packaged optimism, these residents are in some ways trapped more inside Linden Hills than they would be on the outside. Some critics found the symbolism in Linden Hills too heavy-handed, while others felt the novels good points won out over its weaknesses. In a 1985 review in the New York Times Michiko Kakutani wrote, Although the notion of using Dantes Inferno to illuminate the coopting of black aspirations in contemporary America may strike the prospective reader as precious, one is quickly beguiled by the actual novelso gracefully does Miss Naylor fuse together the epic and the naturalistic, the magical and the real.

Explored the Spiritual

Naylors next novel, Mama Day, featured plot twists and themes centering on spiritualism and reconciliation, which drew comparisons with Shakespeares The Tempest. Readers entered the world of Willow Springs, an island off the Georgia coast where a 90-year-old conjurer named Miranda Mama Day serves as a spiritual guide. Day had also made an appearance in Linden Hills.

On this wondrous island, wrote Bharati Mukherjee in the New York Times Book Review, slavery and race relations, lovers quarrels, family scandals, professional jealousies all become the stuff [that] dreams are made on Mukherjee called the novel magnificent in its depiction of a host of bizarre characters ranging from rogues and frauds to martyrs and clairvoyants. Mama Day was called farfetched by some critics, however, who said that its characters were not fully fleshed out. It also suffered from the baggage of a subsidiary love story that resembled the plight of Romeo and Juliet.

In Baileys Café, published in 1992, Naylor focused on the intersecting lives of the proprietors of a diner and its various patrons. The cafe is a magnet that draws a wide variety of societys detritus, each with her own story to tell. Naylors main concern here was female sexuality, and all sides of it are brought to light by characters ranging from Eve, the madam of a local brothel, to Sister Carrie, a nun. Theres even an Ethiopian child who may be the bearer of a miracle. While in the outside world these characters may be thought of as misfits, in the cafe each one achieves a transcendent status and serves as a symbol of the triumph of perseverance over adversity. Once again, Naylor demonstrated her ability to find the heroism in the lives of everyday people, while at the same time showing their frustration at not being able to escape their position in life.

Concluded her Apprenticeship

Baileys Café represented the final chapter in Naylors novel quartet, as she referred to it. I conceived them as a quartet from book one, she told the Writer. And I had a purpose for it. I felt that by writing those four books, I would go through an apprenticeship to my craft. Then I would feel, within myself, that I was a writer. When I finished the last of that quartet, it was an exciting, exciting moment for me, to realize that I had set that goal and achieved it.

In 1994 Naylor adapted Baileys Café for the stage, which gave her the opportunity to dramatically display the rhythms of her characters lives and speech patterns. In the New York Times, Ben Brantley offered a mixed review of the plays opening in Hartford, Connecticut. Its allegorical elements, he said, which were woven more slyly into the fabric of the novel, have been expanded and exaggerated here, and the play simply cant sustain their full weight. Still, he added that Ms. Naylor is a masterly storyteller, and theres a rich narrative force to the individual monologues.

Naylor returned to Brewster Place in 1998, this time focusing on the male residents, in The Men of Brewster Place. Here she, according to African American Review turns her artistic and political attention to the plight of the black man, and she does so in such a way as to render a compelling fictional expose of his dilemma. The African American Review noted that there is little, if any, of the lyrical prose which readers have come to expect from this gifted novelist and that the male characters lack much of the emotional involvement and depth that make Naylors female characters so memorable. Despite these failings, however, the African American Review called it a much needed glimpse into the inner life of black men from a black womans perspective.

Naylor explained her writing methods to Essence in 1995: I tell the essence of a story not so much through my characters words as by capturing a moment in time, frozen and perfect, when all their senses create a living reality. She expanded on her philosophy in Essence three years later. Artists should be able to write about whatever they want, she said. Theres a lot of self-censorship in our community, which is a shame. People feel that they need to write role models, not just good characters.

Naylors other writings have included one work of nonfiction, as well as essays and screenplays. In addition, she served as editor of Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to Present. She is also the founder of One Way Productions, an independent film company that she formed to bring Mama Day and other projects to the screen. The company has also produced a childrens play. After a brief marriage during her years as a missionary, Naylor has decided not to remarry or have children because she felt that her solitude is vital for her work. One of the few black women to win the coveted Guggenheim Fellowship for creative writing, Naylor has been hailed, according to the African American Review, one of contemporary African American literatures most insightful and significant writers.

Selected writings

The Women of Brewster Place, Viking, 1982.

Linden Hills, Ticknor & Fields, 1985.

(nonfiction) Centennial, Pindar Press, 1986.

Mama Day, Ticknor & Fields, 1988.

Baileys Café, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.

(play) Baileys Café, 1994.

(editor) Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to Present, 1995.

The Men of Brewster Place, Hyperion, 1998.

Other

Also contributed to Southern Review, Essence, Ms., Life, Ontario Review, and People.

Sources

Books

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and K.A. Appiah, Gloria Naylor: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad, 1988.

Pearlman, Mickey, and Katherine U. Henderson, Talks With Americas Women, University Press of Kentucky, 1990, pp. 23-29.

Whos Who Among African Americans, 16th edition, Gale, 2003.

World Authors edited by Vineta Colby, H.W. Wilson, 1991, pp. 636-39.

Periodicals

African American Review, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 172-188; Fall 1999, p. 543; Spring 2000, p. 176.

Black Enterprise, July 1982, pp. 13, 70.

Black Scholar, Winter 1994, p. 66.

Booklist, February 15, 1995, p. 1099.

Ebony, March 1989, p. 122.

Essence, December 1988, p. 48; May 1995, p. 193; June 1998, p. 70.

Ms., May 1986, pp. 56-62.

New York, February 8, 1988, p. 94.

New York Times, February 9, 1985; April 14, 1994, p. C17.

New York Times Book Review, August 22, 1982, pp. 11, 25; May 13, 1984, p. 29; February 21, 1988, p. 7; October 4, 1992, p. 11.

New York Times Magazine, December 20, 1992, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, September 9, 1983, p. 224; December 11, 1995, p. 56.

Wilson Library Bulletin, June 1983, p. 844.

Writer, December 1994, p. 21.

Ed Decker and Jennifer M. York

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Naylor, Gloria 1950—

Gloria Naylor 1950

Writer

At a Glance

Shattered Stereotypes

Explored the Spiritual

Concluded Her Apprenticeship

Selected writings

Sources

Since her first novel was published in 1982, Gloria Naylor has become one of the most critically acclaimed and popular black writers. Along with Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, she is one of the key forces in the black feminist literary movement. At the same time, Naylor has avoided criticism leveled at her fellow black feminist writers for their negative depictions of black men.

Naylor started out writing poetry in college, a period during which she lacked the confidence to write prose. I dont believe I would have ever made the crucial leap from appreciative reader to writer were it not for my discovery of Toni Morrison in a creative writing course at Brooklyn College, Naylor wrote in the New York Times Book Review. Morrisons The Bluest Eye had a major effect on Naylor, who had not realized that there was a significant body of literature on the black female experience.

Reading became a passion for Naylor at a young age, mostly due to her mothers influence. Alberta Naylor struggled to obtain books because, in rural Mississippi, she was barred from taking them out of public libraries. After moving with her family to New York in 1949, she made sure her children got an early introduction to the wonders of reading, and Gloria was given her first library card at about age four. She read voraciously throughout her childhood, partly because she was introverted and spent a lot of time alone. Since she rarely spoke, her mother gave her a diary that became an early training ground for the future writer.

An excellent student, Naylor was placed into advanced classes in high school. Her first exposure to English classics helped shape the foundation of her later writing efforts. The passion of the Brontès, the irony of Jane Austen, and the social indignation of Dickens fed my imagination as I read voraciously, she said in the New York Times Book Review. However, her evolution as a writer was stalled during her senior year in high school as a result of Martin Luther King, Jr.s assassination. Kings death had a major impact on Naylor, leaving her bewildered about the black community and her own future. Her search for meaning led her to serve as a missionary for the Jehovahs Witnesses in New York, North Carolina, and Florida for the next seven years.

Naylor left the mission at age 25 and went back to school. As she wrote in the New York Times, I had used

At a Glance

Born January 25,1950, in New York, NY; daughter of Roosevelt (a transitworker) and Alberta (McAlpin) Naylor (a telephone operator). Education: Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, B.A. in English, 1981; Yale University, M.A. in Afro-American Studies, 1983.

Missionary for the Jehovahs Witnesses, 196875; worked as telephone operator at Sheraton City Square and other hotels, New York City, 197581; writer, 1981; published first novel, 1982; writer in residence, Cummington Community of the Arts, 1983; visiting lecturer, George Washington University, 198384; became contributing editor, Callaloo, 1984; cultural exchange lecturer, United States Information Agency, India, 1985; scholar in residence, University of Pennsylvania, and visiting professor, New York University, 1986; contributed Hers columns to New York Times, 1986; visiting lecturer, Princeton University, 198687; visiting professor, Boston University, 1987; Book-of-the-Month Club judge, 1988; Fannie Hurst Visiting Professor, Brandeis University, 1988; wrote play based on her novel Baileys Cafe (first staged, 1994); founded independent film production company One Way Productions. Contributor to Southern Review, Essence, Ms., Life, Ontario Review, and People.

Addresses: Publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 111 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003.

that religion as a straitjacketfor my budding sexuality, for my inability to accept the various shadings of lifewhile doing it and myself an injustice. After taking nursing courses at Medgar Evers College, she transferred to Brooklyn College to pursue her interest in English literature. She helped pay for her schooling by working the night shift as a switchboard operator at various New York City hotels.

College was a pivotal time for Naylor. While there her black consciousness, especially as a black woman, began taking form and compelled her to explore her creative powers. Her eyes were opened greatly by reading the works of black female authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Morrison, and Alice Walker. Drawing on these authors as role models, Naylor found her stride as a writer and was recognized for her talent soon after she began writing fiction. One of the first short stories she penned appeared in a 1980 issue of Essence, and before long she had a contract with Viking.

Naylors first group of stories evolved into a novel, much of which she wrote while still working at hotel switchboards. The end result was The Women of Brewster Place, a saga of seven women of different ages, backgrounds, and lifestyles and how they confronted poverty, racism, sexism, and domestic strife both alone and together. Highly symbolic, the novel is set on a dead-end street that is cut off from accepted society by an ugly brick wall, much as blacks are pushed into ghettos by white society. One character yearns to see her fugitive son again. Another lives on the edge, then meets a man who is even more daring than she. Naylor covered the entire gamut of human experience, from Kiswana Browne, who defects from a comfortable middle-class existence to ally with the people of the street, to Cora Lee, whose overriding passion is the care of her beloved babies.

Shattered Stereotypes

Chief among Naylors goals in The Women of Brewster Place was to shatter stereotypes about black women and demonstrate that their experience is as varied as that of whites. She also wanted to show the resilience of the downtrodden in overcoming tough circumstances. The Women of Brewster Place was both a critical and popular success. Publishers Weekly called it a remarkable first novel from a gifted black writer [that] marks Gloria Naylors talent as one to watch. The novel appeared on the Publishers Weekly trade paperback best-seller list, and was later made into a television movie starring Oprah Winfrey.

Naylors next novel, Linden Hills, was published in 1985. Featuring some of the same characters as her first novel, Linden Hills was set in a well-to-do black suburb that would have been considered a major move upward by the residents of Brewster Place. Critical consensus regarded this novel as much more adventurous and broader in scope than Naylors first book. Throughout, Naylor made the point that attempting to rise in thé ranks of white-dominated society through economic means results in a shallow victory. The book was cited for its obvious parallels to Dantes Inferno, as two male poets, Lester and Willie, come in from another town in search of work and make their way through a series of drives that ring the suburban development in a fashion similar to Dantes nine circles of hell. As the twosome venture down the hill, they meet those who have moved up in society. More or less cast in the role of the devil is Luther Nedeed, a local mortician and real estate mogul whose family has reigned at the top of the Linden Hills hierarchy for over 150 years.

Lester and Willie discover a series of lost souls yearning for a piece of the American dream, which ultimately cannot give them the fulfillment for which they yearn. Victims of Nedeeds carefully packaged optimism, these residents are in some ways trapped more inside Linden Hills than they would be on the outside. Some critics found the symbolism in Linden Hills too heavy-handed, while others felt the novels good points won out over its weaknesses. In a 1985 review in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani wrote, Although the notion of using Dantes Inferno to illuminate the coopting of black aspirations in contemporary America may strike the prospective reader as precious, one is quickly beguiled by the actual novelso gracefully does Miss Naylor fuse together the epic and the naturalistic, the magical and the real.

Explored the Spiritual

Naylors next novel, Mama Day, featured plot twists and themes centering on spiritualism and reconciliation, which drew comparisons with Shakespeares The Tempest. Readers entered the world of Willow Springs, an island off the Georgia coast where a 90-year-old conjurer named Miranda Mama Day serves as a spiritual guide. Day had also made an appearance in Linden Hills.

On this wondrous island, wrote Bharati Mukherjee in the New York Times Book Review, slavery and race relations, lovers quarrels, family scandals, professional jealousies all become the stuff [that] dreams are made on. Mukherjee called the novel magnificent in its depiction of a host of bizarre characters ranging from rogues and frauds to martyrs and clairvoyants. Mama Day was called farfetched by some critics, however, who said that its characters were not fully fleshed out. It also suffered from the baggage of a subsidiary love story that resembled the plight of Romeo and Juliet.

In Baileys Cafe, published in 1992, Naylor focused on the intersecting lives of the proprietors of a diner and its various patrons. The cafe is a magnet that draws a wide variety of societys detritus, each with her own story to tell. Naylors main concern here was female sexuality, and all sides of it are brought to light by characters ranging from Eve, the madam of a local brothel, to Sister Carrie, a nun. There is even an Ethiopian child who may be the bearer of a miracle. While in the outside world these characters may be thought of as misfits, in the cafe each one achieves a transcendent status and serves as a symbol of the triumph of perseverance over adversity. Once again, Naylor demonstrated her ability to find the heroism in the lives of everyday people, while at the same time showing their frustration at not being able to escape their position in life.

Concluded Her Apprenticeship

Baileys Cafe represented the final chapter in Naylors novel quartet, as she referred to it. I conceived them as a quartet from book one, she told the Writer. And I had a purpose for it. I felt that by writing those four books, I would go through an apprenticeship to my craft. Then I would feel, within myself, that I was a writer. When I finished the last of that quartet, it was an exciting, exciting moment for me, to realize that I had set that goal and achieved it.

In 1994 Naylor adapted Baileys Cafe for the stage, which gave her the opportunity to dramatically display the rhythms of her characters lives and speech patterns. In the New York Times, Ben Brantley offered a mixed review of the plays opening in Hartford, Connecticut. Its allegorical elements, he said, which were woven more slyly into the fabric of the novel, have been expanded and exaggerated here, and the play simply cant sustain their full weight. Still, he added that Ms. Naylor is a masterly storyteller, and theres a rich narrative force to the individual monologues.

Naylors other writings have included one work of nonfiction, as well as essays and screenplays. She is also the founder of One Way Productions, an independent film company that she formed to bring Mama Day and other projects to the screen. After a brief marriage during her years as a missionary, Naylor has decided not to remarry or have children because she feels that her solitude is vital for her work. Her commitment to her craft resulted in her becoming one of the few black women to win the coveted Guggenheim Fellowship for creative writing, and has made her one of the most important voices in black feminist literature.

Selected writings

Novels, except where noted

The Women of Brewster Place, Viking, 1982.

Linden Hills, Ticknor & Fields, 1985.

Centennial (nonfiction), Pindar Press, 1986.

Mama Day, Ticknor & Fields, 1988.

Baileys Cafe, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.

Baileys Cafe (play), 1994.

Sources

Books

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and K. A. Appiah, Gloria Naylor: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad, 1988.

Pearlman, Mickey, and Katherine U. Henderson, Talks With Americas Women, University Press of Kentucky, 1990, pp. 2329.

World Authors, edited by Vineta Colby, H.W. Wilson, 1991, pp. 63639.

Periodicals

African American Review, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 17288.

Black Enterprise, July 1982, pp. 13, 70.

Black Scholar, Winter 1994, p. 66.

Booklist, February 15, 1995, p. 1099.

Ebony, March 1989, p. 122.

Essence, December 1988, p. 48.

Ms., May 1986, pp. 5662.

New York, February 8, 1988, p. 94.

New York Times, February 9, 1985; April 14, 1994, p. C17.

New York Times Book Review, August 22, 1982, pp. 11, 25; May 13, 1984, p. 29; February 21, 1988, p. 7; October 4, 1992, p. 11.

New York Times Magazine, December 20, 1992, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, September 9, 1983, p. 224.

Wilson Library Bulletin, June 1983, p. 844.

Writer, December 1994, p. 21.

Ed Decker

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  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
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Gloria Naylor

Gloria Naylor

The author Gloria Naylor (born 1950) wrote novels that emphasized the strengths of women, especially African American women, and the effects on the lives of people of racism, sexism, and the drive for material gain at any expense.

Gloria Naylor was born in Harlem on January 25, 1950, a month after her parents, Alberta and Roosevelt Naylor, arrived in New York City. Her parents were sharecroppers from Robinsonville, Mississippi, and her mother was especially determined that her children, Gloria and two younger sisters, receive the best education that could be provided for them. Even as a farm worker Alberta Naylor had used some of her meager wages to buy books that the segregated libraries of Mississippi denied her. When Gloria was old enough to sign her name, her mother began to take her to the library. Naylor became a fervent reader and began to write poems and stories as a child.

Alberta Naylor worked as a telephone operator, and Roosevelt Naylor was a motorman for the New York Transit. The family eventually moved to Queens. A good student, Naylor attended classes for the gifted and talented. After graduating from high school, she decided to postpone college in order to serve as a Jehovah Witness missionary. This decision was greatly influenced by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Naylor felt that she needed to work to change the world, and the Witnesses' notion of a theocratic government seemed a viable solution to her. From 1968 to 1975 she proselytized in New York, North Carolina, and Florida.

Troubled by the restrictions of the religion and spurred by the need to develop her talents, she matriculated at the Medgar Evers campus of Brooklyn College. Working as a telephone operator in New York City hotels, she pursued a degree in nursing. However, when it became clear that she preferred her literature classes, she transferred to a major in English. As an avid reader from childhood, she already admired such writers as Austen, Dickens, the Brontes, Faulkner, Ellison, and Baldwin. She soon recognized that all of these writers were either "male or white."

Fortunately, a creative writing class introduced her to Toni Morrison. It was an inspirational discovery. Although Naylor considered herself a poet then, Morrison became a model for rendering one's own reality and for crafting beautiful language. Naylor began to attend readings by Morrison and to hone her own skills as a fiction writer.

In 1980 Naylor entered into a marriage that lasted for ten days. That same year she published her first story in Essence magazine. The secretary to the president of Viking publishing company, who was a friend of a friend, circulated four of Naylor's stories among the editors in January 1981. Two weeks later Naylor had a contract for the book that eventually became The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories (1982). The novel is actually a cycle of interconnected stories about seven women of different backgrounds who live in a decrepit building on Brewster Place, a dreary street cut off from the rest of the city by a wall. Despite their differences, all of them are united by their inability to fulfill dreams deferred by racism and sexism. The Women of Brewster Place won the American Book Award for the best first novel in 1983.

In 1981 Naylor received her B.A. from Brooklyn College and, using an advance from The Women of Brewster Place, set off for Spain in a brief sojourn patterned after the expatriate adventures of Hemingway and Baldwin. As a single woman traveling alone, she found herself approached often by men and began to resent the fact that she did not have the freedom to explore enjoyed by male writers, white and black. She shut herself up in a boarding house in Cadiz and began to write Linden Hills (1985).

The initial idea for this novel was influenced by her reading of The Inferno in a Great Literature course at Brooklyn. Linden Hills is an African American middle-class neighborhood patterned after the circular geography of Dante's hell. Two younger poets, outsiders in Linden Hills who are looking for work the week before Christmas, discover the neuroses and crimes of the bourgeois inhabitants, who have relinquished culture and values for material gain.

In 1981 Naylor had enrolled in the graduate program in African American studies at Yale. She thought it important to study works that "were reflections of me and my existence and experience" (Goldstein). She received her M.A. in 1983.

Naylor's third novel, Mama Day, was published in 1988. Its settings are New York City and Willow Springs, a sea island off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina whose most powerful inhabitant is Miranda (Mama) Day, healer and magician. When Mama Day's beloved niece, Cocoa, brings her husband George to visit, they all become involved in a plot to save Cocoa from a deadly curse. Naylor examined the conflicts between men and women, portraying the woman as the repository of the sensual and emotional and the male as the essence of rationality. Like Naylor's other novels, this one reverberates with the influences of traditional literature, this time Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Naylor has penned two other works Bailey's Cafe (1992) and a dramatic version of the story for the stage in 1994. In Bailey's Cafe published in 1992, Naylor focused on the interesting lives of the proprietors of a diner and it's various patrons. In this novel, Naylor demonstrates her ability to find heroism in the lives of everyday people, while at the same time showing their frustration at not being able to escape their position in life. Naylor is also the sole founder of One Way Productions, an independent film company.

Gloria Naylor was the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts (1985) and a Guggenheim fellowship (1988), Naylor was one of only a few African American women ever to receive this honor. She was a cultural exchange lecturer for the United States Information Agency in India in 1985. She served as the writer-in-residence of the Cummington Community of Arts (Summer 1983); and as a visiting professor at George Washington University (1983-1984), University of Pennsylvania (1986), New York University (Spring 1986), Princeton (1986-1987), Boston University (1987), Brandeis University (1988), and Cornell (1988).

Further Reading

For more biographical information on Gloria Naylor see Naylor and Toni Morrison's, "A Conversation," in The Southern Review (Summer 1985) and W. Goldstein's, "Talk with Gloria Naylor," in Publishers Weekly (September 9, 1983). For critical information, see Michael Awkward's Inspiriting Influences (1989) and Catherine Ward's, "Gloria Naylor's Linden Hills A Modern Inferno," in Contemporary Literature (Spring 1987). □

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Naylor, Gloria

NAYLOR, Gloria

Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 25 January 1950. Education: Brooklyn College, New York, B.A. in English 1981; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1981-83, M.A. in Afro-American Studies 1983. Career: Missionary for the Jehovah's Witnesses, New York, North Carolina, and Florida, 1968-75; telephone operator, New York City hotels, 1975-81. Writer-in-residence, Cummington Community of the Arts, Massachusetts, Summer 1983; visiting professor, George Washington University, Washington, D.C., 1983-84, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1986, New York University, 1986, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1986-87, and Boston University, 1987; Fannie Hurst Visiting Professor, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1988; United States Information Agency Cultural Exchange Lecturer, India, Fall 1985. Columnist, New York Times, 1986. Since 1988 judge, Book-of-the-Month Club. Awards: American Book award, 1983; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1985; Guggenheim fellowship, 1988. Address: c/o One Way Productions, 638 Second Street, Brooklyn, New York 11215, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories. New York, Viking Press, 1982; London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1983.

Linden Hills. New York, Ticknor and Fields, and London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1985.

Mama Day. New York, Ticknor and Fields, and London, Hutchinson, 1988.

Bailey's Café. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1992; London, Minerva, 1993.

The Men of Brewster Place. New York, Hyperion, 1998.

Uncollected Short Story

"Life on Beekman Place," in Essence (New York), March 1980.

Other

Editor, Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to the Present. Boston, Little, Brown, 1995.

*

Film Adaptations:

The Women of Brewster Place, 1989.

Critical Studies:

Gloria Naylor: Critical Perspectives Past and Present edited by Henry Louis Gates and K.A. Appiah, New York, Amistad, 1993; Gloria Naylor: In Search of Sanctuary by Virginia C. Fowler, New York, Twayne Publishers and London, Prentice Hall, 1996; The Power of the Porch: The Storyteller's Craft in Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, and Randall Kenan by Trudier Harris, Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1996; The Critical Response to Gloria Naylor, edited by Sharon Felton and Michelle C. Loris, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1997; Understanding Gloria Naylor by Margaret Earley Whitt, Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 1999; Gloria Naylor: Strategy and Technique, Magic and Myth, edited by Shirley A. Stave, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 2000.

Gloria Naylor comments:

I think of The Women of Brewster Place as a love letter to the black women of Americaa celebration of their strength and endurance. Linden Hills is a cautionary talean example of the drastic results if a people forsake their ethnocentric identity under the pressure to assimilate into a mainstream society and seek its rewards.

* * *

Gloria Naylor has written several original and absorbing novels, among them The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories (which won the American Book award for best first writing in 1983), Linden Hills, and Mama Day. Naylor's success lies, in part, in the intensity of her presentation of such social issues as poverty, racism, discrimination against homosexuals, the unequal treatment of women, the value of a sense of community among blacks, and the failure of some upper middle-class educated blacks to address racial problems and social injustice.

The Women of Brewster Place has a simple structure. Most of the scenes take place in the decaying apartment complex, Brewster Place. The dwellers expect to go nowhere else. The brick wall that closed their street several years earlier now separates them from the rest of the city and symbolizes their psychological and spiritual isolation. In the closing pages of the novel, one woman removes a brick that she thinks is stained with the blood of a resident recently gang-raped and left to die. Impulsively, the other women join her and collectively they tear down the wall, experiencing as they do so an inner regeneration, a sense of community and solidarity, and a rebirth of hope.

The novel includes seven narratives, each focusing on a woman and illuminating her present situation while abundant flashbacks recapitulate her earlier experience. The dominant woman in one chapter appears as a less important figure in several others, so that the entire book, consisting of related though not always consecutive episodes, emerges as a novel rather than as a collection of stories only. While each of the narratives has its own climax, the book builds toward the most threatening crises faced by the Brewster Place community: Ciel's starving herself almost to death in grief for her lost child, the antagonism that builds against two lesbian tenants, and the rape-murder of Lorraine, the lesbian elementary school teacher who has tried to help Kiswana (an idealistic radical) establish a closely organized community among the tenants. Through the suffering of Ciel and that of Lorraine, the other women achieve a new understanding of one another and deepened insight into the problems that confront them individually and collectively. The work considered as a novel gains unity through Naylor's use of a single setting, her concentration upon a small number of women in each narrative, her analysis of the major threats to the community in the tragedies of Ciel and Lorraine, and her resort to rituals of healing in which the characters join each other in expressing their human concern in acts rather than in words.

In Linden Hills Naylor again confines her scenes to one location, but her tone and outlook are more sardonic and pessimistic. In her castigation of middle-class black society, Naylor here finds little hope for renewal of spiritual values or for a development of communal responsibility or identity among the residents. Linden Hills blacks are ambitious and selfish; the richer ones live close to the bottom of the hillside; and richest of all is Luther Nedeed. For five generations Luther Nedeed has controlled Linden Hills real estate and also been the local mortician. Next to the Nedeed home and morgue lies the cemetery. The Nedeed wives in each generation have been so deprived of affection and companionship by their "frog-eyed" husbands that they looked forward finally only to death.

Linden Hills has a far more intricate narrative structure than Naylor's first novel. Two young poets, Willie and Lester, in the six days before Christmas earn gift money doing odd jobs. Most of the action is seen through their eyes, except for flashbacks related to the past experiences of the householders who employ them. As they journey further down the hillside each day, they encounter death, suicide, hypocrisy, exploitation, and treachery. The poets agonize and rage over the people who are living a meaningless, deathlike existence.

An additional narrative line appears in "inserts" in the text that interrupt the narration of the experiences of Willie and Lester during this week. The lines addressed directly to the reader reveal secret horrors unknown to Willie and Lester. Luther Nedeed, dissatisfied with the light skin of his infant son, has banished his wife, Willa, and their infant to his abandoned basement morgue, and he begins lowering food and water to her only after the infant has starved to death. In her desperate isolation, Willa searches for any sign of humanity. From day to day she discoversand furtively readsthe secret notes recorded in diaries, letters, Bibles, and recipe books by the wives of Nedeed men since 1837. Sharing their tales of abuse, she feels their presence with her and gains strength to climb the stairs on Christmas Eve, carrying her dead son, and to confront her husband. At that moment the decorated tree bursts into flame and in the inferno that follows all traces of the Nedeeds disappear. No neighbor bothers to assist them or even to sound an alarm.

Naylor uses Dante's journey through the lower world in the symbolism that gives additional coherence and depth to the multiple plots. The powerful in Linden Hills resist spiritual illumination and prefer a life in Hell to a life in Paradise. They illustrate the principle underlying Dante's vision of those who inhabit the netherworld, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." Naylor's work demonstrates that in hell all malefactors are concerned only with their own suffering, rather than with their guilt. Blacks in Linden Hills have the wealth and resources to attain self-awareness, love, and grace, but they are actually far less receptive to the promptings of the spirit than the poor women in Brewster Place, who are capable of spiritual illumination and conversion to a regenerate existence.

Naylor's third novel, Mama Day, shows a continued progression in her boldly imagined fiction. It recounts a love story of a good marriage that was sometimes far from calm, and it presents for the first time in her novels a kind, responsible, and interesting husband. Ophelia and George Andrews work in a small Manhattan engineering office and hesitantly fall in love, frequently fight, and finally learn to listen to each other by taking turns expressing themselves in long monologues. This continues even after one is in a grave and the other is sitting next to the grave. The novel speaks of the death in the early pages and what one might hear in the cemetery. The courtship and marriage are thus recounted for the reader after the marriage has been broken by death. They recall memories of the details of arguments, happy events, and of their childhood. The alternate passages in the book develop a kind of antiphonal poetry, with long questions and long answers. The love story is told in first person by the two narrators in alternating sections. Only occasionally and when another person appears in the story does the third-person omniscient narrator speak. The connected monologues begin in New York City and end in Willow Springs, a sea island where Ophelia (also called Cocoa and Baby Girl) was raised by her grandmother, Abigail, and her great-aunt, Miranda (Mama Day). George, abandoned as an infant in New York, grew up in a shelter for boys. He has learned to stress intellectuality and insist upon reason and provable facts. Cocoa values not only what she has been taught in college but also the folk wisdom of Mama Day and Abigail, their intuition, but not their connection with magic, conjure, or hexes.

The island of Willow Springs is connected by a bridge to both Georgia and South Carolina but is not a part of either state. The latter three-fourths of the novel takes place at Willow Springs. Most of the action in Willow Springs is narrated in the first-person voice of Mama Day, as are the philosophical or spiritual messages that Naylor seeks to convey. During their summer visit to the island both Cocoa and George are forced to compromise and both develop greater understanding. Cocoa, after violent confrontation and deadly illness, finds less need to insist on her own way. George, with greater difficulty, begins to acknowledge some kind of faith in Mama Day's power to heal and to respect both nature and the supernatural.

The folkways, celebrations, and eccentricities of the populace on the island provide an intriguing sequence of events, but the novel ends chaotically with a hurricane and flood that confuses intricate lines of the plots and their intersection. While the extensive symbolism leads the reader to search for mythic and universal truth in the novel, Naylor raises as many questions as answers. Although the "Candle Walk," in which the villagers march to the bridge carrying lighted candles, is impressive, no one knows why they observe it. They know that something happened to free their ancestors in 1823, but are unsure how a slave named Sapphira Wade was able to marry the slave owner, get him to sign papers freeing all his slaves on the island, and then murder him. Mama Day and Abigail recognize that Baby Girl is a descendant of Sapphira and accept her aggressive and stubborn nature as inevitable, but they are concerned that she and George will never find peace.

In making a quilt for their wedding present, they consider protecting her by not including pieces of cloth that belonged to "contrary" womenonly using remnants from women who were sheltered and timid. But they decide against this, because Mama Day thinks the broad experience of life is to be treasured rather than avoided. While they include scraps of cloth from women who broke men's hearts and who never found inner peace, they also choose a quilt pattern that is composed of interlocking rings, suggesting the support one woman needs from other women. Mama Day is supported by the community in the gift-giving that follows the Candle Walk. In recognition of the old woman's healing, midwifery, and sage advice throughout the past year, the people bring her provisions of every sort to be stored to last all through the next year.

But if the Candle Walk activities suggest an idyllic black community, Naylor negates this impression with her stories of vengeance, hexes, and curses and makes clear that the people consult not only Mama Day but also her rival in advising and healinga man who is a fraud, a bootlegger, and a card shark. Mama Day's thoughts are shadowed by grief for her mother, who drowned herself, and Mama Day is responsible late in the story for the violent murder of a jealous woman who has poisoned Cocoa. George, though drawn to the family and community, values his urban life and job and seeks to swim through the flood to return "beyond the bridge." If less carefully structured than Naylor's earlier novels, Mama Day is a rich and powerful novel that shows the influence of both Toni Morrison and Alice Walker in venturing beyond the natural into suggestions of the power of the supernatural and the spirit.

Bailey's Café is a place where a variety of people, each incomplete or hurting in his or her own way, come to find completion. Like a speakeasy, to enter it requires use of a code, but here the code is the blues, and Naylor has structured the novel like a sort of blues symphony. This polyphonic quality returns in The Men of Brewster Place, a sequel to The Women of Brewster Place that brings back the character of Ben, a janitor from the earlier novel, as both narrator and chorus.

Margaret B. McDowell

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Naylor, Gloria

Naylor, Gloria

January 25, 1950


Gloria Naylor, a writer, was born in New York City to Roosevelt and Alberta Naylor. After traveling through New York, Florida, and North Carolina as a missionary for Jehovah's Witnesses (19681975), she returned to New York, where she worked as a telephone operator at various hotels while she attended Brooklyn College (B.A., 1981). She received an M.A. in Afro-American Studies from Yale University in 1983.

Naylor's first published work, The Women of Brewster Place (1982), won the American Book Award for best first novel in 1983. Dealing with the lives of seven black women who live on one ghetto street, the novel conveys the oppression and spiritual strength that African-American women share. At the same time, by exploring the characters' differences, it emphasizes the variety of their experience. Naylor wrote a television screenplay adaptation of the novel, which starred Oprah Winfrey and appeared on American Playhouse in 1984. Her next novel, Linden Hills (1985), is concerned with the spiritual decay of a group of black Americans who live in an affluent community, having forsaken their heritage in favor of material gain. Mama Day, published in 1988, tells of an elderly lady with magical powers. The best-selling Bailey's Cafe (1992) takes place in a 1940s American diner where neighborhood prostitutes congregate. Naylor wrote a play based on the novel, which was produced and performed by the Hartford Stage Company in 1994. She also wrote the screenplay for the PBS presentation In Our Own Words (1985).

Naylor has said that she writes because her perspective, that of the black American woman, has been underrepresented in American literature. Her goal is to present the diversity of the black experience. Although she reworks traditional Western sources in her novels, borrowing the structure of Dante's Inferno for Linden Hills and elements of Shakespeare's The Tempest for Mama Day, Naylor utilizes black vernacular and other aspects of her own heritage in her writing.

Naylor's 1998 novel, The Men of Brewster Place, returns readers to the setting of her first story, this time to relate the stories of the men in the lives of the original characters. Naylor said this fifth novel was inspired by the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., which took place in the fall of 1995, as well as by the death of her father. Both events helped the author to reassess certain ideas she held about men and their roles in the lives of African-American women.

Naylor has taught at George Washington University, New York University, Princeton, Cornell, and Boston University. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1985), the Distinguished Writer Award from the Mid-Atlantic Writers Association (1983), the Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women (1986), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1988). She was awarded a President's Medal from Brooklyn College in 1993, and an honorary doctorate of letters from Sacred Heart University in 1994.

See also Caribbean/North American Writers, Contemporary; Literature of the United States

Bibliography

Hine, Darlene Clark, ed. Black Women in America. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson, 1993.

Montgomery, Maxine, ed. Conversations with Gloria Naylor. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.

Wilson, Charles E. Gloria Naylor: A Critical Companion. West-port, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.

lily phillips (1996)

lydia mcneill (1996)
Updated bibliography

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Naylor, Gloria

NAYLOR, Gloria

Born 25 January 1950, New York, New York

Daughter of Roosevelt and Alberta McAlpin Naylor

In four novels published in only six years, Gloria Naylor demonstrated a talent to match her ambition. Her elaborately detailed, precisely drawn fictional worlds represent the complex social worlds of late twentieth-century African Americans. Always conscious of class and gender distinctions, as well as racial difference and sexual preference, Naylor crafts nuanced and varied representations of black life. All reflect a particular concern with black female character and with the problem of preserving a distinctive cultural heritage during a period of social and cultural assimilation. Larded with literary allusions to both classical Western texts and African-American fiction, Naylor's novels deliberately call attention to themselves as literary artifacts. They have enjoyed critical and commercial success.

Among their most striking elements is the keen evocation of place. Naylor maps a fictional geography that encompasses Brewster Place, an inner-city neighborhood that is home to those with nowhere else to go; Linden Hills, a suburb to which successful blacks aspire; and Willow Springs, a mythical island off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia that constitutes an ancestral home. Geographically disparate, these sites are connected through the genealogies of the characters who inhabit them. With each novel, the dimension of Naylor's project becomes clearer.

The Women of Brewster Place (1982) was published one year after Naylor graduated from Brooklyn College and embarked on a career as a writer. Subsequently, she earned an M.A. in Afro-American studies from Yale (1983). Earlier she had been a missionary for Jehovah's Witnesses (1968-75) and a switchboard operator. The Women of Brewster Place won the 1983 American Book award for best first novel. In 1989, without Naylor's involvement, it was adapted for television.

Walled off from the rest of society, Brewster Place is a literal and figurative dead end; yet its women (each "an ebony phoenix") have the will to make it home. Their poverty imposes a familiarity—the buildings are too cramped for privacy—that they mold into community. Mattie Michael, a Southern-born, hardworking, religious woman, is the book's moral center. A failed mother, whose spoiled son's betrayal has compelled her move to Brewster Place, Mattie redeems herself and her maternal power. In a powerful scene, she saves a young woman's life by "rocking" her through the pain of a lost child. Like racism and poverty, sexism fractures families. Under the weight of these interlocking oppressions, the novel asserts, black women must rely on each other to survive. When they fail, as in the story of the lesbian couple whom the community ostracizes, the consequences are fatal.

Kiswana Browne is the character who provides the link to Naylor's second novel, Linden Hills (1985). This daughter of the bourgeoisie moves to Brewster Place to be with "the people." Women gently mocks her naive idealism; Linden Hills illuminates its source. Founded by an ex-slave as a challenge to racism, "a beautiful, black wad of spit right in the white eye of America," Linden Hills has been passed down through five generations of Luther Nedeed's heirs and namesakes. Despite its subversive intent, it is a monument to patriarchal power and materialism. Kiswana could find no community here.

Within a structure borrowed from Dante's Inferno, Naylor inserts the voices and perspectives of the Nedeed wives, whose legacies are buried in the letters, recipe books, and photograph albums that Willa Nedeed discovers in the family cellar. Their words and images empower Willa. Similarly, through a series of allusions to, and revisions of, texts by Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker, Naylor pays homage to the literary predecessors who enable her work.

Mama Day (1988) confirms Naylor's consciousness of participating in multiple literary traditions. Echoes of Shakespeare's The Tempest resound against the mythic voice of the slave woman, Sapphira, whose rebellion secured Willow Springs for her descendants. Prominent among these are the title character, Miranda (Mama) Day, a healer, conjure woman, and dispenser of wisdom, and her grandniece Ophelia; Willa Nedeed is their kinswoman. The plot depicts Ophelia's courtship and marriage to George Andrews, by birth an orphan, by training an engineer, and by inclination a rationalist. The couple's sojourn on the island builds to a climax in which the forces of faith and reason, history and progress, collide.

As Linden Hills draws on Dante and Mama Day on The Tempest, Bailey's Cafe (1992) reimagines biblical women—Eve, Mary, Jezebel, Mary Magdalene—in a late-20th-century netherworld. A novel "about sexuality," according to Naylor, it is "structured…like a jazz set." Using a kaleidoscopic point of view, Naylor tells stories of sin and redemption, love and hate, damnation and salvation. The cafe, presided over by Maestro Bailey, is both the end of the world and the beginning of new life for those who gather there.

Some critics question whether Naylor's characters are strong enough to carry the historical and philosophical burdens she imposes on them. They point to elements of melodrama and sentimentality as well. But Naylor's strengths transcend these occasional weaknesses. Through lyrical yet gritty prose and sharply delineated characters, she advances a vision too challenging to ignore.

In the late 1990s Naylor continues to create stories that capture the range of the African-American experience. She won the National Book award for The Women of Brewster Place, which she followed with Linden Hills, Mama Day, and Bailey's Cafe. She also edited Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to the Present (1995), and this anthology provides the companion volume to Langston Hughes's 1967 classic, The Best Short Stories by Black Writers. Naylor presents the finest African-American short stories of the last three decades. The volume is arranged in four thematic sections: "Remembering," "Affirming," "Revealing the Self Divided," and "Moving On." Featured in the volume are works by Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Terry McMillan, and Ntozake Shange, among many others. The 37 stories included capture the many facets of the black experience in America.

Naylor returned to the site of one of her own most powerful locations in The Men of Brewster Place (1998). A collection of short stories, this book serves as a companion to the earlier work. The book is set in the same physical place, the Brewster Place apartments in an unnamed American city, but with different characters. The men are not so much male versions of the women in the first book but individuals with their own stories. Yet their stories do follow similar themes as the original: personal tales involving relationships, sex, and violence. In rich and expert detail, Naylor examines masculine triumph and failure: the sexually confused husband who visits a dominatrix; the guilt-ridden son who jumps bail and causes his mother to lose her house; the Baptist preacher-hustler who manipulates the fortunes of his poor congregation in order to get his way; the Afrocentric community center counselor who gets his young charges to respond to thugs with Shakespearean poetry.

Several critics questioned Naylor's decision to revisit Brewster Place, finding the connection between the two books tenuous. Since the Brewster Place apartment building does not figure as a main character the way it did in the first novel, there appears to be little reason to have placed them in the same location. These critics would have preferred Naylor to let these men be themselves. Yet none of the critics dispute the continuing power of Naylor's ability to craft a story. In The Men of Brewster Place she displays the same rich grace, humor, and compassion that is a distinguishing characteristic of her writing.

Naylor's most recent novel, Saphhira Wade, is a sequel to Mama Day. She created her own production company, One Way Productions, which is intended to present positive images of the black community to as many people in the U.S. and around the world as possible.

Other Works:

"Love and Sex in the Afro-American Novel," Yale Review (Autumn, 1989). "A Message to Winston," Essence (November, 1982). "A Conversation," with Toni Morrison, Southern Review, (Summer, 1985).

Bibliography:

Awkward, M., Inspiriting Influences (1989). Christian, B., "Gloria Naylor's Geography: Community, Class, and Patriarchy in The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills," in Reading Black, Reading Feminist, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed. (1990). Felton, S., and M. Loris, eds., The Critical Response to Gloria Naylor (1997).

Reference works:

African American Writers (1991). Black American Women in Literature (1989). Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature (1992). FW (1996). CA (1983). CANR (1989). CLC (1984, 1989).

Other references:

African American Review (1994, 1996). Black American Literary Forum 24 (Spring 1990). Boston Globe (interview, 21 Oct. 1992). CLAJ (Sept. 1989, March 1991). Contemporary Literature (1987, 1988). Great Women Writers (1994). Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (26 Apr. 1998). Quarterly Black Review (1995). Seattle Times (2 June 1998).

—CHERYL A. WALL,

UPDATED BY CELESTE DEROCHE

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Naylor, Gloria

NAYLOR, Gloria

NAYLOR, Gloria. American, b. 1950. Genres: Novels, Plays/Screenplays. Career: Visiting Professor, New York University, 1986; Contributor, New York Times, 1986; Visiting Lecturer, Princeton University, 1987; Executive Board, Book of the Month Club, 1989-94; Visiting scholar, University of Kent, Canterbury, England, 1992; Producer, One Ways Productions, 1990-; Playwright, Bailey's Cafe, Hartford Stage Company, 1994. Publications: The Women of Brewster Place, 1982; Linden Hills, 1985; Mama Day, 1988; Bailey's Cafe, 1992; (ed) Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, vol. 2; The Men of Brewester Place, 1998. Address: c/o Sterling Lord Literistic Inc, 65 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012-2420, U.S.A.

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Naylor, Gloria 1950–

Naylor, Gloria 1950–

PERSONAL: Born January 25, 1950, in New York, NY; daughter of Roosevelt (a transit worker) and Alberta (a telephone operator; maiden name, McAlpin) Naylor; divorced. Education: Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, B.A., 1981; Yale University, M.A., 1983.

ADDRESSES: Office—One Way Productions, 638 Second St., Brooklyn, NY 11215. Agent—Sterling Lord Literistic, 65 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012-2420.

CAREER: Missionary for Jehovah's Witnesses in New York, North Carolina, and Florida, 1968–75; worked for various hotels in New York, NY, including Sheraton City Squire, as telephone operator, 1975–81; writer, 1981–; One Way Productions, New York, NY, president, 1990–. Writer in residence, Cummington Community of the Arts, 1983; visiting lecturer, George Washington University, 1983–84, and Princeton University, 1986–87; cultural exchange lecturer, United States Information Agency, India, 1985; scholar in residence, University of Pennsylvania, 1986; visiting professor, New York University, 1986, and Boston University, 1987; Fannie Hurst Visiting Professor, Brandeis University, 1988. Senior fellow, Society for the Humanities, Cornell University, 1988; executive board, Book of the Month Club, 1989–94; producer, One Ways Productions, 1990; visiting scholar, University of Kent, 1992; playwright, Hartford Stage Company, 1994.

MEMBER: PEN, Authors Guild, National Writers Union, Book of the Month Club (executive board member, 1989–94).

AWARDS, HONORS: American Book Award for best first novel, 1983, for The Women of Brewster Place; Distinguished Writer Award, Mid-Atlantic Writers Association, 1983; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1985; Candace Award, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, 1986; Guggenheim fellowship, 1988; Lillian Smith Book Award, Southern Regional Council, 1989, for Mama Day; New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, 1991; Brooklyn College President's Medal, 1993; D.H.L., Sacred Heart University, 1994; American Book Award, New Columbus Foundation, 1998, for The Men of Brewster Place.

WRITINGS:

The Women of Brewster Place (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1982.

Linden Hills (novel), Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1985.

Mama Day (novel), Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1988.

Bailey's Cafe (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1992.

Gloria Naylor Reads "The Women of Brewster Place" and "Mama Day" (sound recording), American Audio Prose Library (Columbia, MO), 1988.

(Editor) Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to the Present, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.

The Men of Brewster Place (novel), Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.

Conversations with Gloria Naylor, edited by Maxine Montgomery, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 2004.

Also author of stage adaptation of Bailey's Cafe, produced in Hartford, CT, 1994, and of a children's play, Candy. Author of unproduced screenplay adaptation of The Women of Brewster Place, for American Playhouse, 1984, and of an unproduced original screenplay for Public Broadcasting System's "In Our Own Words," 1985.

Contributor of essays and articles to periodicals, including Southern Review, Essence, Ms., Life, Ontario Review, and People. Contributing editor, Callaloo, 1984–. "Hers" columnist for New York Times, 1986.

ADAPTATIONS: The Women of Brewster Place was adapted as a miniseries, produced by Oprah Winfrey and Carole Isenberg, and broadcast by American Broadcasting Co. (ABC-TV) in 1989; it became a weekly ABC series in 1990, produced by Oprah Winfrey, Earl Hamner, and Donald Sipes.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A sequel to Mama Day, about Cocoa and Saphira Wade.

SIDELIGHTS: Gloria Naylor won critical and popular acclaim for her first published novel, The Women of Brewster Place. In that book, as in her successive novels, including Linden Hills, Mama Day, and The Men of Brewster Place, Naylor gave an intense and vivid depiction of many social issues, including poverty, racism, homophobia, discrimination against women, and the social stratification of African Americans. Vashti Crutcher Lewis, a contributor to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, commented on the "brilliance" of Naylor's first novel, derived from "her rich prose, her lyrical portrayals of African Americans, and her illumination of the meaning of being a black woman in America." In The Women of Brewster Place and her other novels, Naylor focuses on "themes of deferred dreams of love (familial and sexual), marriage, respectability, and economic stability, while observing the recurring messages that poverty breeds violence, that true friendship and affection are not dependent on gender, and that women in the black ghettos of America bear their burdens with grace and courage," stated Lewis.

Naylor's parents left Mississippi, where they worked as sharecroppers, to seek new opportunities in New York City. Gloria was born there in 1950. A quiet, precocious child who loved to read, she began writing prodigiously even before her teen years, filling many notebooks with observations, poems, and short stories. After graduating from high school, she worked as a missionary for the Jehovah's Witnesses in the city and in the South. In 1981, she entered Brooklyn College, majoring in English. It was at that time that she read Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye, which was a pivotal experience for her. She began to avidly read the work of Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and other black women novelists, none of which she had been exposed to previously. She went on to earn an M.A. in African-American studies at Yale University; her thesis eventually became her second published novel, Linden Hills.

Publication of some short fiction in Essence magazine led to her first book contract. The Women of Brewster Place is made up of seven interconnected stories, involving seven black women who live in a dreary apartment complex that is isolated from the rest of the city. Though they are from widely varying age groups and social backgrounds, and have very different outlooks and approaches to life, the women become a strong support group for each other as they struggle with the pain and frustration of finding their dreams constantly thwarted by the forces of racism and sexism. Naylor's work won the prestigious American Book Award for the best first novel in 1983.

Reviewing The Women of Brewster Place in the Washington Post, Deirdre Donahue wrote: "Naylor is not afraid to grapple with life's big subjects: sex, birth, love, death, grief. Her women feel deeply, and she unflinchingly transcribes their emotions…. Naylor's potency wells up from her language. With prose as rich as poetry, a passage will suddenly take off and sing like a spiritual…. Vibrating with undisguised emotion, The Women of Brewster Place springs from the same roots that produced the blues. Like them, her book sings of sorrows proudly borne by black women in America." Lewis described The Women of Brewster Place as "a tightly focused novel peopled with well-delineated, realistically portrayed African-American women. Nay-lor's use of authentic African-American vernacular and precise metaphors are hallmarks."

One of the characters in Brewster Place is a refugee from Linden Hills, an exclusive black suburb. Naylor's second novel spotlights that affluent community, revealing the material corruption and moral decay that would prompt an idealistic young woman to abandon her home for a derelict urban neighborhood. Though Linden Hills, as the book is called, approaches the Afro-American experience from the upper end of the socioeconomic spectrum, it is also a black microcosm. This book "forms the second panel of that picture of contemporary urban black life which Naylor started with in Women of Brewster Place," wrote Times Literary Supplement contributor Roz Kaveney. "Where that book described the faults, passions, and culture of the good poor, this shows the nullity of black lives that are led in imitation of suburban whites."

Naylor was more ambitious in structuring her second novel. Linden Hills has been described as a contemporary allegory with gothic overtones, structurally modeled after Dante's Inferno. Among its many accomplishments, Dante's Italian masterpiece describes the nine circles of hell, Satan's imprisonment in their depths, and the lost souls condemned to suffer with him. In Naylor's modern version, "souls are damned not because they have offended God or have violated a religious system but because they have offended themselves. In their single-minded pursuit of upward mobility, the inhabitants of Linden Hill, a black, middle-class suburb, have turned away from their past and from their deepest sense of who they are," wrote Catherine C. Ward in Contemporary Literature. To correspond to Dante's circles, Naylor uses a series of crescent-shaped drives that ring the suburban development. Her heroes are two young street poets—outsiders from a neighboring community who hire themselves out to do odd jobs so they can earn Christmas money. "As they move down the hill, what they encounter are people who have 'moved up' in American society … until eventually they will hit the center of their community and the home of my equivalent of Satan," Naylor told Publishers Weekly interviewer William Goldstein. Naylor's Satan is one Luther Nedeed, a combination mortician and real estate tycoon, who preys on the residents' baser ambitions to keep them in his sway.

Naylor's third novel, Mama Day, is named for its main character—a wise old woman with magical powers whose name is Miranda Day, but whom everyone refers to as Mama Day. This ninety-year-old conjurer made a walk-on appearance in Linden Hills as the illiterate, toothless aunt who hauls about cheap cardboard suitcases and leaky jars of preserves. But it is in Mama Day that this "caster of hoodoo spells … comes into her own," according to New York Times Book Review contributor Bharati Mukherjee. "The portrait of Mama Day is magnificent," Mukherjee wrote. Mama Day lives on Willow Springs, a wondrous island off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina that has been owned by her family since before the Civil War. The fact that slaves are portrayed as property owners demonstrates one of the ways that Naylor turns the world upside down, according to Rita Mae Brown. Another, Brown stated in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, is "that the women possess the real power, and are acknowledged as having it." When Mama Day's grandniece Cocoa brings George, her citified new husband, to Willow Springs, he learns the importance of accepting mystery. "George is the linchpin of Mama Day," Brown said. "His rational mind allows the reader to experience the island as George experiences it. Mama Day and Cocoa are of the island and therefore less immediately accessible to the reader." The critical point in the story is the moment when George is asked not only to believe in Mama Day's power, but to act on it. A hurricane has made it impossible to summon a doctor from the mainland, but Cocoa is critically ill. Mama Day gives George a task to do in order to help save Cocoa's life, but he fails to do it because he only uses his rational thinking. George does ultimately save Cocoa, but doing so demands a great personal sacrifice.

The plot twists and thematic concerns of Mama Day have led several reviewers to compare the work to that of Shakespeare. "Whereas Linden Hills was Dantesque, Mama Day is Shakespearean, with allusions, however oblique and tangential, to Hamlet, King Lear, and, especially, The Tempest," wrote Chicago's Tribune Books critic John Blades. "Like Shakespeare's fantasy, Naylor's book takes place on an enchanted island…. Naylor reinforces her Shakespearean connection by naming her heroine Miranda." Mukherjee also believed that Mama Day "has its roots in The Tempest. The theme is reconciliation, the title character is Miranda (also the name of Prospero's daughter), and Willow Springs is an isolated island where, as on Prospero's isle, magical and mysterious events come to pass."

Naylor's ambitious attempt to elevate a modern love story to Shakespearean heights "is more bewildering than bewitching," according to Blades. "Naylor has populated her magic kingdom with some appealingly offbeat characters, Mama Day foremost among them. But she's failed to give them anything very original or interesting to do." Mukherjee also acknowledged the shortcomings of Naylor's mythical love story, but added, "I'd rather dwell on Mama Day's strengths. Gloria Naylor has written a big, strong, dense, admirable novel; spacious, sometimes a little drafty like all public monuments, designed to last and intended for many levels of use."

Naylor's fourth novel, Bailey's Cafe, also had its inspiration in a literature classic, Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. Like Wharton's novel, Bailey's Cafe focuses on women's sexuality and the ways women are defined by society's perceptions of them. With this book, Naylor hoped to deconstruct the Judeo-Christian thinking about women. To achieve this, she took women characters from the Bible and placed them in the twentieth century to relate their stories. Eve runs a boardinghouse and has a reputation for healing troubled women. Eve was banished naked from her father's house, and her place now is suspected by many of being a bordello. Eve's boarders include Sadie, Sweet Esther, Mary, and Jesse Bell, modern women whose stories parallel those in the Bible. "The novel sings the blues of the socially rejected," stated Lewis, "who arrive at Bailey's struggling to find some measure of solace from a brutal American environment filled with racial and sexual stereotypes." The book was a critical success, and was adapted by Naylor as a stage play.

Naylor revisited her first success in 2000 with The Men of Brewster Place. Male characters were very marginal in her first novel, functioning mainly as people who wreaked havoc upon the lives of the women of Brew-ster Place. In The Men of Brewster Place, the author fills in the background of those characters, giving insight into their actions. The ten chapters in the book discuss seven individuals known as the sons of Brewster Place: Basil, Eugene, Maxine Lavon Montgomery, Ben, Brother Jerome, Moreland T. Woods, C.C. Baker, and Abshu. Ben, a character who died in the earlier book, is brought back in creative and magical ways. He functions as a sort of Greek chorus, overseeing the events and giving otherworldly perspective.

African American Review writer Maxine Lavon Montgomery called Naylor "a skillful writer adept at creating a range of uniquely individual characters." The author's look at the plight of the black man is rendered "in such a way as to render a compelling fictional expose of his dilemma." Black Issues in Higher Education reviewer Jackie Thomas praised The Men of Brewster Place as "a profound work that explores the other side of the gender issue." He approved of Naylor's depiction of them as rational beings who "are able to think for themselves and who realize that they have problems they must solve" and concluded: "It is refreshing to see someone address the Black male character and explore him realistically. Certainly, this work should be an inspiration to all who read it, and it should also encourage other writers to explore Black male characters from similar vantage points." But Booklist contributor Donna Seaman felt "these characters remain flat, and their stories are cautionary tales, intriguing in terms of the issues they raise yet a touch too facile and melodramatic." Yet, Seaman added, "there are flashes of genuine insight, tragedy, and great warmth." A Publishers Weekly writer allowed that the stories "feature the familiar ills of the inner city," but added that "Naylor lends these archetypal situations complexity and depth."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

African-American Writers, Scribner (New York, NY), 1991.

Black Literature Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 28, 1984, Volume 52, 1989.

Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 173: American Novelists since World War II, Fifth Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Feminist Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Fowler, Virginia C., Gloria Naylor: In Search of Sanctuary, Prentice-Hall, 1996.

Hall, Chekita T., Gloria Naylor's Feminist Blues Aesthetic, Garland, 1998.

Harris, Trudier, The Power of the Porch: The Storyteller's Craft in Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, and Randall Kenan, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1996.

PERIODICALS

Advocate, April 14, 1998, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. 73.

African American Review, summer, 1994, p. 173; spring, 1995, pp. 27, 35; spring, 2000, Maxine Lavon Montgomery, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. 176; spring, 2001, Christopher N. Okonkwo, "Suicide or Messianic Self-Sacrifice?: Exhuming Willa's Body in Gloria Naylor's Linden Hills," p. 117.

American Visions, April, 1996, Dale Edwyna Smith, review of Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to the Present, p. 26.

Antioch Review, summer, 1996, Ed Peaco, review of Children of the Night, p. 365.

Black Issues in Higher Education, December 10, 1998, Jackie Thomas, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. 31.

Booklist, December 1, 1995; January 1, 1996; March 1, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. 1045; January 1, 1999, Barbara Baskin, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. 900; November 1, 2001, Nancy Spillman, review of The Men of Brewster Place (audio version), p. 494.

Boston Herald, April 19, 1998, Judith Wynn, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. 71.

Chicago Tribune Book World, February 23, 1983.

Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 1985.

Commonweal, May 3, 1985.

Contemporary Literature, Volume 28, number 1, 1987.

Detroit News, March 3, 1985; February 21, 1988.

Ebony, May, 1998, p. 14.

Emerge, May, 1998, Valerie Boyd, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. 76.

English Journal, January, 1994, p. 81; March, 1994, p. 95.

Essence, June, 1998, p. 70; August, 2001, review of Mama Day, p. 62.

Houston Chronicle, June 9, 1998, Carol Rust, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. 1.

Library Journal, June 1, 1998, p. 187.

London Review of Books, August 1, 1985.

Los Angeles Times, December 2, 1982.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 24, 1985; March 6, 1988.

Ms., June, 1985.

New Republic, September 6, 1982.

New York Times, February 9, 1985; May 1, 1990.

New York Times Book Review, August 22, 1982; March 3, 1985; February 21, 1988; April 19, 1998, Roy Hoffman, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. 19.

People, June 22, 1998, p. 39.

Publishers Weekly, September 9, 1983; December 11, 1995, review of Children of the Night, p. 56; February 23, 1998, p. 49.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 3, 1998, Andrea M. Wren, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. E7.

San Francisco Review of Books, May, 1985.

Seattle Times, June 2, 1998, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. E1.

Tampa Tribune, May 31, 1998, review of The Men of Brewster Place, p. 4.

Times (London, England), April 21, 1983.

Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 1985.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), January 31, 1988.

Twentieth Century Literature, fall, 2002, Robin Blyn, "The Ethnographer's Story: Mama Day and the Specter of Relativism," p. 239.

Washington Post, October 21, 1983; May 1, 1990.

Washington Post Book World, March 24, 1985; February 28, 1988.

Women's Review of Books, August, 1985.

Writer, December, 1994, p. 21.

ONLINE

Unofficial Gloria Naylor Web site, http://www.lythastudios.com/gnaylor/ (January 21, 2004).

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