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Author, Gloria Naylor, dies at age 66

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By Kevil Tice ~

Gloria Naylor, an award winning author, is known for her 1982 novel, The Women of Brewster Place, which was picked up by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Production Company and developed into film.  Naylor passed away on September 28th at the age of 66.

At a young age, Naylor was aware of her attraction to literature.  Influenced by her mother, she was an avid reader and wrote faithfully in a diary.  She excelled in advanced classes in school and eventually became a professor, teaching writing and literature at several universities.

The Women of Brewster Place, her first novel, earned Naylor a National Book Award for Best First Fiction.  It documents the lives of seven African American women as they experience and fight to overcome individual battles with identity, death, abuse, promiscuity, single motherhood, and homosexuality.

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I admit, I have never actually read the novel.  I have, however, added it to my “to do” list this week.  The movie, on the other hand, is one of my absolute favorites.  Although it would be much later in my life before I would totally grasp the entirety of each woman’s individual story, I remember being intrigued as a young girl by the bits and pieces I did understand.  I am still in awe of how Naylor overlapped so many different forms of struggle as one story without one of them being overshadowed by another.  BRILLIANT!

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For the last five years, I have organized the annual Black History program for my church.  For two of those years, I have used the same scene from The Women of Brewster Place, as a monologue preceding a brief lesson on Identity within the African American culture.  The scene involves actresses Cicely Tyson and Robin Givens as mother and daughter.  Tyson’s character, Mrs. Browne, gives her daughter, Melanie some insight to her heritage as she expresses the heartache she experienced when she (Melanie) changed her name to Kiswana.

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“My grandmother was a full-blooded Iroquois, and my grandfather a free black from a long line of journeymen who had lived in Connecticut since the establishment of the colonies. And my father came to this country as a cabin boy on a merchant mariner. I am alive because of the blood of proud people who never scraped or begged or apologized for what they were. They lived asking
for only one thing of this world: to be allowed to be. And I learned through the blood of these people that black isn’t beautiful and it isn’t ugly; It’s not kinky hair, it’s not straight hair; black is just black! It broke my heart when you changed your name. I gave you my grandmother’s name, a woman who bore nine children and educated them all, who held off six white men with a shotgun when they tried to drag one of her sons to jail for ‘not knowing his place.’ Yet you needed to reach into an African dictionary to find a name that made you proud. When I brought my babies home from the hospital, my ebony son and my golden daughter, I swore before whatever gods would listen, those of my mother’s people or those of my father’s people, that I would use everything I had and could ever get to see that my children were prepared to meet this world on its own terms, so that no one could sell them short and make them ashamed of what they were or how they looked, whatever they were or however they looked. And Melanie, that’s not being white or red or black. That’s being a mother.”
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In my opinion, that particular scene was one of the most profound.  Gloria Naylor definitely left her mark in the literary world.  She will be missed.

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