Gloria Naylor, Author of The Women of Brewster Place, Dies at 66

Image via AP.
Image via AP.

Novelist Gloria Naylor, known best for her first novel The Women of Brewster Place, which is comprised of stories about women living in the same housing project that explore racism, poverty, and homophobia, died of a heart attack on September 28. Naylor died in the Virgin Islands, where she was writing and working, according to her niece Cheryl Rance, Ebony reports.

Naylor was born in New York City in 1950, eventually matriculating at Brooklyn College (in an obituary, they called her a “standout student”), where she received her bachelor’s degree in English in 1981. She then went to Yale, where she earned a master’s degree in African American studies. The Women of Brewster Place was published in 1982 (Naylor actually wrote it while she was at Brooklyn College), and it won the 1983 National Book Award and an American Book Award. As the New York Times recounts:

Critics praised “The Women of Brewster Place.” “Even if Gloria Naylor’s first novel were not the emotionally satisfying and technically accomplished book that it is, her decision to set it on Brewster Place, a one-street ‘ghetto,’ would have been courageous,” Susan Bolotin wrote in The New York Times in 1982. “What is marvelous, however, is that she doubled her own dare by leaving in the predictable landmarks, the archetypal characters, the usual clues, and made the whole thing work.”

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In 1989, the book was adapted by Oprah Winfrey into a TV movie for ABC. Naylor went on to write several other novels, including Linden Hills, Mama Day and The Men of Brewster Place. She taught at many colleges during her career, including New York University and Cornell, and received honors from the National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim fellowships.

Contributing Writer, writing my first book for the Dial Press called The Lonely Hunter, follow me on Twitter @alutkin

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DISCUSSION

I wish more people were familiar with Gloria Naylor. You don’t usually see her name mentioned with the heavy-hitters like Toni Morrison or Angelou, but you really should. She should be on alllll the syllabi! Linden Hills is a work of complete genius- it’s a razor-sharp indictment of the Black middle class, structured around Dante’s Inferno. It blew me away when I read it (at my HBCU - context may be important there). Mama Day also really moved me, it conveys so much about loneliness and the city, the country and home. It’s a good source if you’re curious about Gullah culture, as well. Brewster Place definitely deserves all the recognition it gets. I really love the vignette about the woman attacked by corner boys, in no way does she excuse their violence but I think she does bring in really important context (that’s too often ignored) of economic and societal marginalization that contributes to the desperation of these young men to be recognized. I always think of that vignette when people discuss cat-calling and street harassment, I wish more people would read it and consider the hood ecosystem as a whole.

That is to say, her work is beautiful and profound and has been extremely important to me, over the years! Rest in power!