Each time I finish a Gloria Naylor novel, I am surprised at the lack of mainstream popularity her fantastic body of work fails to enjoy. Women of Brewster Place her most famous novel was turned into a television mini-series and later a spinoff, Brewster Place.
However, Naylor is a literary darling, winning several awards for her work, including the 1983 National Book Award for Women of Brewster Place. Yet, she is far less known commercially than her contemporaries, such as Alice Walker, although they both deal with similar themes around Black women negotiating hegemonic systems.
The narrators are a married couple, owners of Bailey’s Cafe located in a remote location. They generously share the stories of the colorful people who visit their establishment. Most of the stories center around women and their issues with beauty, race, gender, sexual identity, and finding a place in the world that empowers them outside the male gaze. The point of view (POV)often shifts from the primary narrators to the featured characters that the narrators discuss while chatting with others at the cafe. The change in POV provides details and background information to help the reader understand what brought the person to Bailey’s Cafe in the first place and the reasons that give depth to the characters. Otherwise, readers would see this small town through the eyes of the narrators, which are limited at best. Naylor artfully uses religious symbolism throughout the novel, even though sometimes she misses the mark (the story about the Jewish woman and her immaculate conception was confusing at best).
Recently, Terry McMillan spoke of Black women telling “black” stories and receiving little recognition. At the same time, white people craft similar stories, and their books are instant bestsellers (i.e., Katheryn Stockett via The Help). Naylor’s literary work is a testament to McMillan’s provocative statement. Yet, even Terry McMillan is more of a household name than Gloria Naylor! From beginning to end, Naylor crafts a beautiful story, but like many of her novels, it will not receive the commercial accolades it deserves.