Women of Brewster Place (Naylor)

The Women of Brewster Place 
Gloria Naylor, 1982
Penguin Publishing
192 pp.

Winner, 1983 National Book Award-First Novel

In her heralded first novel, Gloria Naylor weaves together the stories of seven women living in Brewster Place, a bleak-inner city sanctuary, creative a powerful, moving portrait of the strengths, struggles, and hopes of black women in America.

Vulnerable and resilient, openhanded and openhearted, these women forge their lives in a place that in turn threatens and protects—a common prison and a shared home.

Adapted into a 1989 ABC miniseries starring Oprah Winfrey, The Women of Brewster Place is a contemporary classic—and a touching and unforgettable read. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—January 25, 1950
Born—New York, New York, USA
Died—September 28, 2016
Where—Christiansted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
Education—B.A., Brooklyn College; M.A. Yale University
Awards—National Book Award

Gloria Naylor was was an American novelist, known for novels including The Women of Brewster Place (1982), Linden Hills (1985) and Mama Day (1988). She was born in New York, the oldest child of Roosevelt Naylor and Alberta McAlpin.

Background and early years
The Naylors, who had been sharecroppers in Robinsonville, Mississippi, had migrated to Harlem to escape life in the segregated South and seek new opportunities in New York City. Her father became a transit worker; her mother, a telephone operator. Even though Naylor's mother had little education, she loved to read, and encouraged her daughter to read and keep a journal. Before her teen years, Gloria began writing prodigiously, filling many notebooks with observations, poems, and short stories.

In 1963, Naylor's family moved to Queens and her mother joined the Jehovah's Witnesses. An outstanding student who read voraciously, Naylor was placed into advanced classes in high school, where she immersed herself in the work of nineteenth century British novelists.

Naylor's educational aspirations were delayed by the shock of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in her senior year. She decided to postpone her college education, becoming a missionary for the Jehovah's Witnesses in New York, North Carolina, and Florida instead. She left seven years later as "things weren't getting better, but worse."

From 1975 to 1981 Naylor attended Medgar Evers College and then Brooklyn College while working as a telephone operator, majoring in nursing before switching to English.

It was at that time that she read Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye, which was a pivotal experience for her. She began to avidly read the work of Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and other black women novelists, none of which she had been exposed to previously. She went on to earn an M.A. in African-American studies at Yale University; her thesis eventually became her second published novel, Linden Hills.

Naylor's debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place, was published in 1982 and won the 1983 National Book Award in the category First Novel. It was adapted as a 1989 television miniseries of the same name by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions.

Naylor went on to publish Linden Hills (1985), Mama Day (1987), and Bailey's Cafe (1992). Each of these novels garnered much attention for their exploration of the modern black American experience.

Naylor's work is featured in such anthologies as Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Fiction (1990), Calling the Wind: Twentieth-Century African-American Short Stories (1992) and Daughters of Africa (1992).

During her career as a professor, Naylor taught writing and literature at several universities, including George Washington University, New York University, Boston University, and Cornell University.

Naylor died of a heart attack on September 28, 2016, while visiting St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands. She was 66. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/8/2018.)

Book Reviews
[A] shrewd and lyrical portrayal of many of the realities of black life.… Miss Naylor bravely risks sentimentality and melodrama to write her compassion and outrage large, and she pulls it off triumphantly.
New York Times Book Review

Vibrating with undisguised emotion, The Women of Brewster Place springs from the same roots that produces the blues. Like them, [Naylor's] book sings of sorrow proudly borne by black women in America.
Washington Post

Naylor creates a completely believable, and very frightening, world of degradation, violence and human—very human—courage and sturdiness.
Chicago Sun-Times

[A] moving portrait of the strengths, struggles, and hopes of black women.… Gloria Naylor weaves together the truths and myths of the women's lives, creating characters who are free to determine the course of their lives, embodying the self actualization tradition of the Harlem Renaissance.
Sacred Fire

(Refers to the audio version) Tonya Pinkins reads and presents the characters very well, catching the lyricism of each woman's story; the range of emotions is a demanding task… [But] this abridgment doesn't fully capture the power of the whole or the full devastation and pride of Naylor's characters. —Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Library Journal

Discussion Questions
1. What do you think of the novel's structure? How does each woman's individual voice reinforce the novel's themes as a whole? Does this group of women represent a cross section of women in general?

2. In what sorts of ways do each of these women find comfort in the hardships of their everyday lives? How does this reflect the strengths and weaknesses of each woman?

3. Each of these women cope with enormous loss in their lives, but each manages their grief differently. Compare, for instance, Mattie's loss of her house and her son with Ceil's loss of her baby. What could these women learn from each other?

4. How does Naylor portray the South, where many of these women came from, as both a land of plenty and a land of harsh deprivation? How are these women's lives different living in the North? are they happier? more fulfilled? more subject to racial bias? Is there more opportunity for them in Brewster Place than in the South?

5, What do you think of the way Lorraine and Theresa are treated by the other women in Brewster Place?
What is Naylor saying about prejudice? Why do you think she concluded the novel with their story?

6. Each of these women is capable of enormous love, but they are often hurt by their loved ones. What do you think Naylor is saying about a woman's capacity for love? Is this sort of love "worth it"? Would these women be happier if they had hardened their hearts to those who eventually let them down?

7. What do you think the "death" of Brewster Place means for the future of its residents? How does Brewster Place continue to live on, once it is vacant? What do you make of Mattie Michael's dream, in which the women of Brewster Place dismantle the structure, brick by brick?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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