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Happy Birthday, Gloria Naylor!

Gloria Naylor Photo by David Shankbone
Photo: David Shankbone

Born January 25, 1950, today would be Gloria Naylor’s 71st birthday. Naylor was born in New York City to sharecroppers who escaped the segregated South and migrated north to Harlem in search of better opportunities. Gloria Naylor took to writing at an early age, keeping notebooks full of her short stories, poems, and observations. Although she initially majored in nursing while attending Brooklyn College, the pivotal experience of reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison prompted Naylor to change her major to English. Naylor then went on to earn an M.A. in African American Studies from Yale University. Her thesis eventually inspired her second book Linden Hills. However, Gloria Naylor is best known for her debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place

“Not only is your story worth telling, but it can be told in words so painstakingly eloquent that it becomes a song.”

Gloria Naylor

Published in 1982, The Women of Brewster Place was both critically acclaimed and popular among the wider reading audience. It won the 1983 National Book Award in the First Novel category and was adapted into a television miniseries of the same name by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. As the cover of the book informs the reader, The Women of Brewster Place is a novel told through seven stories. These stories follow the lives of Black women from various socioeconomic backgrounds and how their path in life led them to Brewster Place. 

“There is a problem in America. An Irish or Polish American can write a story, and it’s an American story. When a Black American writes a story, it’s called a Black story. I take exception to that. Every artist has articulated to his own experience. The problem is that some people do not see Black as Americans.”

Gloria Naylor
The Women of Brewster Place Book Cover

I recently had the pleasure of reading The Women of Brewster Place, and I can easily say my reading life is better because of it. Overall, it is always a pleasure to read stories centered around Black women, but along with the pleasure of seeing myself and my kin reflected in The Women of Brewster Place came the pain that comes with being a Black woman in America.

The beauty of us is our ability to be resilient and keep an open heart and mind as we strive for a better life for ourselves and those we love in the face of adversity that weathers our spirits and breaks down our bodies. Naylor masterfully shows what lies at the intersection of class, race, sexuality, and gender through the lives of Mattie, Etta, Theresa, and the other women of Brewster Place who represent the many Black women who continue to make a way out of no way in every redlined neighborhood across America.

Gloria Naylor’s birthday is not only the perfect day to read her beautiful and poetic words, it is an excellent day to read more Black women in general.

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