Gloria Naylor was born in New York City on January 25, 1950. She was raised in a comfortable middle-class community in Queens, but her family’s roots were in Mississippi. Naylor’s parents migrated from the South during the Great Migration of African-Americans from rural southern communities to large, industrial northern cities. Naylor’s first novel, The Women of Brewster Place, reflects this dual cultural inheritance. Almost all of the characters are transplanted from their home community in the South to the unnamed northern city that is the context for this novel.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in literature from Brooklyn College, Naylor began to seriously write fiction. Although she was raised to respect and love the classics of English literature, Naylor was acutely aware of the fact that missing from the narratives of Faulkner, Dickens, Baldwin, and Ellison were the stories that reflected her own experiences as an African-American woman. Before she could break from the tradition in which she had been raised, however, she needed a model through which she could begin to filter her own narratives. Around the same time that Naylor began to write fiction, Toni Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1965). Morrison’s novel, which received widespread critical acclaim and marked the start of Morrison’s Nobel Prize-winning writing career, had a profound effect on Naylor. The novel not only revealed literature’s unique ability represent Naylor’s own stories but it also gave her the confidence and authority she needed to write about the places and people she knew.
Naylor published The Women of Brewster Place in 1982 after completing a master’s degree in African-American studies at Yale. The novel was well-received by critics and authors alike for its lyrical prose style and its frank yet hopeful portrayal of an African-American community struggling to survive in a depressed landscape. In The Women of Brewster Place, Naylor draws on many ideas critical to her own personal and intellectual development, including class, gender, sexuality, and general reflections on the African-American experience in the United States, from the legacy of the Civil Rights Era to the importance of faith and religion.
Following the success of The Women of Brewster Place, Naylor published her second novel, Linden Hills (1985). If The Women of Brewster Place is the first half of Naylor’s attempt to chronicle the experiences of African-Americans, then Linden Hills is its faithful counterpart: the community of affluent African-Americans that it treats is mentioned several times in The Women of Brewster Place. The spiritual and moral concern that Naylor brought to her first novel are recast onto a different strata of African-Americans. Regardless of class distinction, however, Naylor’s primary concerns remain consistent throughout her work. In her next three novels, Mama Day (1993), Bailey’s Café (1993), and The Men of Brewster of Place (1998), Naylor continued to present the ideas that compromise the experiences of African-Americans, especially those of black women.