Gloria Naylor is another Scheherazade. She was a consummate storyteller, wrote beautifully, created engaging stories and characters we could judge if so inclined by the content of their character, not their race. Unlike Alice Walker, Naylor’s male characters have more character, like Ben the janitor/caretaker in today’s book recommendation. They are not stereotypes. For the record, and in fairness to Walker, James Baldwin called out Richard Wright for creating the “stereotype” Bigger Thomas. As I indicated in a previous blog, Bigger is not a stereotype, and he is not simply an angry Black man. He was created from Wright’s imagination. He’s that dream denied, not deferred, that turns into a nightmare, and not simply for white folk.
Naylor, in creating her characters, especially the seven women in The Women of Brewster Place, gives them soul, and it conjures up, for me, The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. DuBois, which also doesn’t make it on my recommended book list this Black history Month. As writers know, when we create characters, even if it doesn’t make it into our works, we give them born days, and sketch their lives on a timeline – I, myself, think in timelines, as a history buff.
I have a special place for Gloria Naylor on my Black History Month Book Recommendations, as a native New Yorker, and for her involvement in a literacy program in da Bronx. And, of course, as a born and bred Brooklynite, for her book, Bailey’s Café, which centers on “a mythic Brooklyn diner that offers an oasis for the suffering.” Additionally, she intertwined stories from the Bard and Black folklore. And although Their Eyes Were Watching God – a great title – by Zora Neale Hurston doesn’t make it on my list – there are only 28 days in February this year – I think of how both Hurston and Naylor wove Black folklore into their stories.
The Women of Brewster’s Place, a National Book Award Winner, is Naylor’s most famous work, and it made it to the small screen starring Oprah Winfrey, Robin Givens and Cicely Tyson.
As a Black man I love that Naylor returned to Brewster Place with The Men of Brewster Place. Naylor knows we need each other, and perhaps she never said, “I don’t need a man.” I have told Black women perhaps they will never hear a black man say, “I don’t need a woman.”
If you haven’t read anything by Naylor, then you need to. Pick up any book by her. You’ll get a good and entertaining story, and you won’t be disappointed.