Gloria Naylor Biography

Gloria Naylor Biography

Gloria Naylor embraces her identity as a black female writer, but laments that the label often results in a kind of literary segregation. For Naylor, literature is at its best when it recognizes all people, yet  her own identity is often used to keep her work (and the work of other black and brown writers) in a niche separate from mainstream white American fiction.

Her novel The Women of Brewster Place uses pastiche as a means toward exploring the lives of a group of African American women. The novel is a series of rich, interconnected stories. 

Facts and Trivia

  • Education has played an important role in Gloria Naylor’s life. In addition to being a graduate of Yale, she has taught at New York University, Boston University, and Cornell.
  • Faith and spirituality are also key influences in Naylor’s life and work. She joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses when she was eighteen, and even worked as a missionary for a time.
  • Naylor’s breakout success, the novel The Women of Brewster Place, was completed while she was still studying at Yale.
  • The Women of Brewster Place has had many lives. The novel was released in the early 1980s, and Oprah Winfrey turned it into a miniseries at the end of that decade. In 2007, the novel was adapted as a stage musical.
  • The popularity of The Women of Brewster Place spurred Naylor to write a follow-up, appropriately titled The Men of Brewster Place.


Gloria Naylor was born on January 25, 1950, in New York City, the daughter of Roosevelt Naylor, a transit worker, and Alberta McAlpin Naylor, a telephone operator. Her parents had moved from Mississippi only a few months before. The oldest of three sisters, Naylor grew up and attended schools in New York. As a young person she was shy but was an avid reader. In high school, she immersed herself in such classic British authors as Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens, whose influences can be seen in Naylor’s writing.

The young Naylor also felt a strong sense of religious dedication. In 1968, after graduation from high school, she began working as a missionary for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose headquarters is in Brooklyn. She spent the next seven years as a missionary in New York, North Carolina, and Florida—travels that obviously provided materials for and influenced the settings of her novels. The strongest evidence of her early religious background might be the lingering fundamentalist outlook of her novels, wherein—for other reasons besides religion—characters are often divided into the redeemed or the damned.

In 1975, Naylor left the Jehovah’s Witnesses and returned to New York City, where she worked as a hotel telephone operator while attending Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. At Brooklyn College, Naylor studied creative writing and read the book that was most influential in shaping her career,...

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In her novels, Naylor surveys contemporary black American life, ranging from an urban ghetto to an affluent suburb to a pristine southern island. While few white characters appear in her work, racism is a constant background factor, affecting the circumstances of black existence and the sense of black identity. Naylor also writes as a dedicated feminist who celebrates the lives and special powers of black women.

The male characters in Naylor’s work tend either to be demonized or emasculated. Whether Naylor’s doctrinaire feminism and her related tendency to write in grand, sweeping strokes will ultimately limit her development remains to be seen. Yet these same features help to account for a powerful, mythic quality in Naylor’s writing.


The oldest child of parents who had migrated from Mississippi, Gloria Naylor was born and reared in New York City, her parents having left the South the year before her birth. An avid reader as a child, Naylor seemed to have inherited her passion for reading from her mother, a woman who would go to great lengths to purchase books to which she was denied access in Mississippi libraries because blacks were not allowed inside. The year Naylor graduated from high school, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, and the shock of this event caused Naylor to delay her college education. She chose instead to become a missionary for the Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, North Carolina, and Florida. She eventually found missionary life...

(The entire section is 385 words.)


When she gave her introverted daughter a journal from Woolworth’s, Gloria Naylor’s mother opened the door to writing. In high school, two experiences shaped Naylor’s emerging identity: nineteenth century English literature taught her that language can be a powerful tool, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1968 assassination turned her to missionary work. Instead of going to college, for the next seven years she traveled as a Jehovah’s Witness, abandoning the work in 1975, when she began to feel constrained by the lifestyle.

At Brooklyn College, her introduction to black history and the discovery of such literary foremothers as Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison gave her the inspiration to try writing herself....

(The entire section is 335 words.)