Gloria Naylor Naylor, Gloria (Vol. 28) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gloria Naylor 1950–

Black American novelist and short story writer.

Naylor, who has also published several short stories, elicited critical interest with her first novel, The Women of Brewster Place (1982). Subtitled A Novel in Seven Stories, the book concerns seven women residents of a ghetto housing project. Although their personal situations differ, they collectively share the problems of the black, urban female. Each chapter reads like a short story and focuses on one character and her interaction with the others.

Critics unanimously praise Naylor's controlled narrative ability and her lyrical, passionate prose. The Women of Brewster Place received the 1982 American Book Award for best first novel.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 107.)

Publishers Weekly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A remarkable first novel from a gifted black writer, ["The Women of Brewster Place"] marks Gloria Naylor's talent as one to watch. In an unidentified northern city Brewster Place has become a slum for blacks. Naylor tells her story through the eventually interlocking lives of seven women, old and young, who have come there in refuge, despair or defiance…. [Their] lives reflect in depth the experiences of many black women alive in this country today, from the old woman tossed out as a teenager by her self-righteous Southern father when she bore an illegitimate child, to the young woman from a rich family fascinated by her African roots and trying to persuade her sisters to fight a slum landlord. It is when two lesbians move in that all the fears and prejudices of Brewster Place rise to a terrible climax, one that leaves the reader shattered.

A review of "The Women of Brewster Place," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the April 9, 1982 issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1982 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 221, No. 15, April 9, 1982, p. 45.

William Bradley Hooper

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The Women of Brewster Place] Naylor focuses on seven black women, residents of Brewster Place. She is concerned with the distance between their dreams and realities, problems and solutions; these women are of different ages, come from different backgrounds, react differently to their blackness and to men, and have different notions of personal accomplishment, but all are burdened by being both black and female. Naylor is not angry; she writes with conviction and beautiful language, but spares the reader any bitterness. Characters are not puppets but exist and function as well-rounded personalities.

William Bradley Hooper, in a review of "The Women of Brewster Place," in Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright © 1982 by the American Library Association), Vol. 78, No. 19, June 1, 1982, p. 1300.

Susan Bolotin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Imagine a sort of Catfish Row moved North. Snow and rain have replaced the buzzards as omens, and Ben, a pure-hearted janitor who drinks too much, is standing in for Porgy Bess, Serena and Clara are now called Mattie and Etta Mae and Ciel, but the street's universe still twirls around its women—tough, caring, sexy, sometimes mean, mostly tired, often loyal. (As one of them remarks, "All the good men are either dead or waiting to be born.")

A long tradition of urban fiction and nonfiction, cinema and theater has made places like Catfish Row instantaneously recognizable—and dangerously stereotypic. Even if Gloria Naylor's first novel ["The Women of Brewster Place"] 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. 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….

You see, the protagonist of Miss Naylor's book is the street; the drama of its birth, development, senescence and eventual death make "The Women of Brewster Place" a novel and not a collection of pieces—though it is written in seven chapters that work as independent short stories. Convincing us to believe in a street's tragic flaw is not easy, and Miss Naylor occasionally falters, slipping dangerously close to bathos and rhetoric. But mostly, she achieves her purpose with a dazzling efficiency….

In "The Women of Brewster Place" Miss Naylor has spun those fictional maybes and a whole lot of reality into an unusually textured tapestry.

Susan Bolotin, in a review of "The Women of Brewster Place," in The New York Times (copyright © 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 13, 1982, p. C10.

Deirdre Donahue

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gloria Naylor centers her radiant first novel, "The Women of Brewster Place," not in a specific city but in the chipped concrete and stinking trash cans of any dead-end slum block. In language as intricately whorled as mahogany, Naylor sculpts profiles of seven women….

"The Women of Brewster Place" is no pallid tale of attenuated perception recollected over cappuccino; 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.

Deirdre Donahue, "The Sorrows of 7 Sisters," in The Washington Post (© 1982, Washington Post Co.), August 13, 1982, p. D2.

Annie Gottlieb

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gloria Naylor's "The Women of Brewster Place" is set in one of those vintage urban-housing developments that black people (who are, in truth, "nutmeg," "ebony," "saffron," "cinnamon-red" or "gold") have inherited from a succession of other ethnic groups. The difference is that while the Irish and Italians used it as a jumping-off place for the suburbs, for most of its "colored daughters" Brewster Place is "the end of the line."… But the end of the line is not the end of life. With their backs literally to the wall—a brick barrier that has turned Brewster Place into a dead end—the women make their stand together, fighting a hostile world with love and humor. (p. 11)

Despite Gloria Naylor's shrewd and lyrical portrayal of many of the realities of black life (her scene of services in the Canaan Baptist Church is brilliant), "The Women of Brewster Place" isn't realistic fiction—it is mythic. Nothing supernatural happens in it, yet its vivid, earthy characters (especially Mattie) seem constantly on the verge of breaking out into magical powers…. Miss Naylor bravely risks sentimentality and melodrama to write her compassion and outrage large, and she pulls it off triumphantly. (p. 25)

Annie Gottlieb, "Women Together," in The New York Times Book Review (copyright © 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 22, 1982, pp. 11, 25.∗

Dorothy Wickenden

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It won't come as a surprise to readers of contemporary fiction by black women that Gloria Naylor has few kind words to waste on members of the other sex. Yet The Women of Brewster Place, like Alice Walker's extraordinary The Color Purple,… is not simply a self-indulgent celebration of female solidarity. Naylor and Walker write with equal lucidity about the cruelty that poverty breeds and the ways in which people achieve redemption. Nor is there a wariness about traditional women's roles. The Women of Brewster Place is a novel about motherhood, a concept embraced by Naylor's women, each of whom is a surrogate child or mother to the next. (p. 38)

Dorothy Wickenden, in a review of "The Women of Brewster Place," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1982 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 187, No. 10, September 6, 1982, pp. 37-8.