Gloria Naylor was born in 1950 to African-American parents and is best known for her novels that emphasize the strengths of African-American women. Her parents arrived in New York City from Mississippi just one month before she was born. Her mother, Alberta, was particularly determined that Gloria and her sisters would get the best possible education, knowing it was their vehicle for ...
Gloria Naylor was born in 1950 to African-American parents and is best known for her novels that emphasize the strengths of African-American women. Her parents arrived in New York City from Mississippi just one month before she was born. Her mother, Alberta, was particularly determined that Gloria and her sisters would get the best possible education, knowing it was their vehicle for escaping poverty. Alberta was a keen reader, and would use most of her meager disposable income to buy books.
Although the racist policies of the South prevented Alberta from joining the local library there, that was not the case in New York. Gloria's mother made her sign up for library membership as soon as she was able to sign her name. Gloria quickly became an avid reader herself, and from a young age, began to write poetry and short stories. By the age of 12, she was using writing as a way of expressing various feelings of frustration. Later, she would describe herself at that age as being a "brooder, a gifted child and a voracious reader."
After graduating from high school, Gloria decided to become a Jehovah's Witness rather than going to college. Some have attributed her conversion to the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. Naylor felt a calling to change the world and decided that being a Jehovah's Witness was the best way of making the improvements she felt were necessary.
Gloria was a Jehovah's Witness missionary from 1968 until 1975. She said that this experience helped her become less shy. In addition, as a Jehovah's Witness, she stopped celebrating Christmas. This made her become aware of the "other," a theme prevalent in her writings.
After finishing work as a missionary, Naylor enrolled in Medgar Evers College, where she studied nursing, before transferring a short time later to Brooklyn College. During her studies, she supported herself by working at various hotels and as a telephone operator. It was in 1980, during her undergraduate years, that Naylor published her first short story, "A Life on Beekman Place," in Essence.
Not surprisingly, Naylor was elated by this success, but also terrified that she would never really succeed as a professional writer. A month later, she got engaged, opting for the perceived safety of marriage over the risks of becoming a writer. Unfortunately, her marriage was short lived.
In 1981, Naylor landed a fellowship at Yale University, where she entered the M.A. program. Her thesis would eventually be published in 1985 as a novel, Linden Hills. Naylor did not find it easy at Yale as she struggled to reconcile her creativity with the academic requirements of her program. However, she did manage to complete her master's degree in 1983.
After the publication of Linden Hills, Naylor decided to become a full-time writer, reassuring her mother that she would be able to support herself in her chosen profession. Naylor never remarried, but maintained close relations with her family, especially her siblings. Among her works are The Women of Brewster Place (winner of the National Book Award in 1983), Mama Day, Bailey's Cafe and The Men of Brewster Place. Naylor is considered one of America's premier contemporary writers and has received many awards. In 1988, she became one of the few African-American women to have ever received a Guggenheim Fellowship.