Go On Girl! Book Club remembers Gloria Naylor
When Go On Girl! Book Club had its first Author Awards event in 1992 the winning author was Gloria Naylor for her novel Bailey's CafÈ. Naylor spent much of her literary career writing stories about our neighborhoods and the colorful characters that inhabit them. It is always so sad when one of our literary voices makes their transition. We are grateful for the books they leave behind that keep them and their stories alive in our hearts and minds. They always live on in the words, stories and books they wrote.
In 1998 I had the opportunity to interview Gloria Naylor for our book The Go On Girl Book Club Guide for Reading Groups about her book The Men of Brewster Place below is the interview from the book.
Home base: Brooklyn, New York
Literary Heroes: "I don't have any heroes. There are people I enjoy reading, and they're mostly a lot of women writers. In school, I studied Black women writers, and I think discovering them helped inspire me to write -- people like Zora Neale Hurston and Nikki Giovanni."
Claim to Fame: National Book Award for first novel and the Guggenheim Fellowship for Humanities, American Book Awards and the 1992 Author of the Year Award from Go On Girl! Book Club
In Her Own Words
Q: You are perceived as our neighborhood watch. What is so appealing to you about writing about neighborhoods?
A: It allows me to address a whole profile of different characters, and it doesn't limit what I can do with it as a writer.
Q: Your books tend to take on many social issues. Do you feel as an African-American writer that you have a responsibility to address the issues that are important to us?
A: Not as a writer I don't. As a private citizen, yes, it's important to be part of the community. When I'm working on my fiction, I'm trying to tell the best story I know how.
Q: So many female writers are criticized for their portrayals of male characters in their books. What was your experience with The Women of Brewster Place?
A: I never apologized for the stand I took for Black women. Never. I tell my audiences, I am telling your mothe's story. Now what could be wrong with that? I don't think that Black women have been hard on Black men. And no one ever asks about the invisibility of Black women in the work of Black men. But we're not there. To tell the truth, I did not care about the criticism. It really was just a small number of people asking, "Where are the men in this book?" And I said, "They were not meant to be in this book, it's not their book, read the title page and you'll see." I feel very strongly that artists should be able to write whatever they want to write, there's a lot of self-censorship in our community, which I think is really a shame -- people feeling that they have to write role models, as opposed to just writing good characters.
Q: Why did you find it necessary to revisit Brewster Place, this time from a male perspective?
A: I just wanted to look at the other side of the coin from the women and give those men, who really didn't speak in the first story, a chance to tell their own story. I didn't have an epiphany. My father passed away and then there was the Million Man March. Those things slowly added up to my writing about the men. What crossed my mind was the stories I would tell now; my heroes, if you will, would be all different types of Black men, speaking to make a microcosm of the Black man in America. I decided to use the same strategy that I used in The Women of Brewster Place and for almost the same reason ñ to show multiplicity.
Q: So your father was an influence in writing The Men of Brewster Place?
A: In some ways, he was married to my mother for forty-some years. And he worked damn hard all of his life. And he stayed in the marriage probably when he might have been happier somewhere else, but the fact is that they're from that generation that believed in family first. So he was just a solid kind of person.
Q: Why did you bring Ben back to tell the story?
A: Because he was the observer to all the events that went on in The Women of Brewster Place. He was always perched on top of the garbage can, so he would be the ideal observer again to tell about the men.
Q: Eugene's character was the father of the child who dies in The Women of Brewster Place. Why did you decide to make Eugene gay in this book?
A: I didn't choose that. A lot of things you don't do consciously. But as I began to think about Eugene's story, it unfolded that he wanted to be gay. But I didn't start out saying, "Iím going to make Eugene gay or make Basil this or make Ben that." It's just that once you get into a work, different truths are revealed to you.
Q: All of the characters in your books are well developed. Is there one that's a favorite of yours and why?
A: No. That would be like choosing one child over the other. Each character has brought me something different.
Published Works: The Women of Brewster Place, 1983; Linden Hills, 1985; Mama Day, 1987; Baileys Cafe, 1992; Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to Present, 1997; The Men of Brewster Place, 1998, Gloria Naylor: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, 2000; Conversations with Gloria Naylor, 2004; 1996, 2005
Gloria Naylor (January 25, 1950-September 28, 2016)