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Gloria Naylor: Telling Her Tale

October 29th, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

A black female writer who was once a JW tells her story.

By Marie Arana

Sunday, October 29, 2000

“I am a black female writer and I have no qualms whatsoever with people saying that I’m a black female writer. What I take umbrage with is the fact that some might try to use that identity–that which is me–as a way to ghettoize my material and my output. I am female and black and American. No buts are in that identity. Now you go off and do the work to somehow broaden yourself so you understand what America is really about. Because it’s about me.”

So said Gloria Naylor in the PBS series on African-American culture “I’ll Make Me a World,” and it fairly sums up her dismay at the marginalization of black literature by America’s mainstream. Yet few have done more than this writer to make the culture of black America live on a page. With five published novels to her name, Naylor has taken firm ground in African-American letters, and, as her piece above suggests, she is eager to stake out new ways to give life to her craft.

She was born in New York City in 1950, but she claims her writer’s heart “was conceived” in Robinsonville, Miss., where her parents once worked as sharecroppers. Her mother had little education but loved to read. In a brief speech that Book World printed earlier this year (Feb. 27), Naylor characterized her mother’s love of books as so intense that she worked extra hours in the fields to earn enough to join a mail-order book club. (Libraries in the South would not admit blacks at the time.) When her mother encouraged her to read, Naylor listened. And when her mother handed her a journal and urged her to write down her 12-year-old’s thoughts, she took the advice.

The family moved to Queens in 1963, and shortly thereafter Naylor’s mother became a Jehovah’s Witness. Five years later, Naylor followed. The missionary work nudged her out of a natural shyness and forced her to travel and meet people, but it also sealed her into a hermetic world, where she remained unaware of the boom of black literature that was exploding around her. When, in time, she left the Witnesses disillusioned and anxious about the world she felt was passing her by, she began full-time work as a switchboard operator. In off hours, she studied writing at Medgar Evers and Brooklyn colleges. She will say that it was in 1977, when she read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the first book she’d ever read by an African-American woman, that she was suddenly suffused with hope. She began to see the possibility of spinning tales about what she knew, to conceive of herself as a real writer. When she submitted a short story to Essence magazine, the editor convinced her she had a career.

Naylor finished her first novel, The Women of Brewster Place, a heart-wrenching story of seven women in a seedy urban neighborhood, just as she began graduate work at Yale. When it was published in 1983, it won rapid fame. Five years later it was made into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey. Naylor has followed that success with more novels about love and survival in America: Linden Hills (1985), Mama Day (1988), Bailey’s Cafe (1992) and, most recently, The Men of Brewster Place (1998). Apocalypse, morality, transcendence, redemption–echoes, perhaps, of her days as a Witness–are what take center stage in her novels. But it is racism and politics that lurk in the wings.

She has reason for this. To be black in America, according to her, is a political construct. Just as it took time to feel she had a voice, she says, “we have yet to feel within this country that we are home.”

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

Children of the Night : The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to the present (Short Story)

  1. Alicia
    October 9th, 2012 at 11:01 | #1

    Dear Zero,
    Honestly, I feel sorry for you and hope one day you will wake up from your kool-aid stupor. The Faithful and Discreet Slave or fads are there for the power position they hold. They have collective interest in controlling the lives of millions and manipulate the scriptures
    to do so.
    When their prophesies blow up in their faces, they come up with excuses so that their mindless minions (like yourself) would not become completely lost and disillusioned and possibly suicidal (because after this life, you have NOTHING to live for.
    You like quoting scripture? Look at Deut 18:22 and think of the many prophecies and pronouncements made in the past by the WBTS.
    Also, you quote Moses. He was an imperfect man, yes, made mistakes, yes, but was evidently selected by Jehovah because ALL that Moses spoke of, came through and true.
    Can you endorse the FADS in such a similar manner, just by their history alone? Go see their article (THEY THEMSELVES PUBLISHED THIS of Awake March 22nd 1993 entitled, “Why so many false alarms)
    I’ll give it to them though. They’re really good at what they do.
    Yeah, I thought so.

  2. Markus
    August 25th, 2011 at 08:24 | #2

    Yea and he gave us hell too. We never had that before he arrived.

  3. Maria Perez
    August 24th, 2011 at 13:49 | #3

    Gloria would you feel better if it was a body of dogs?

    There is a reason why Jesus appointed the apostles to direct the preaching… Hello? They were humans who knew what is like to make mistakes, if Jehovah wants us to be directed by perfection, he would have asked the angels. Your eyes could be open but you will not be able to see if you heart is not sincere. Sorry. I am a new JW but even I can see.

  4. Maria Perez
    August 24th, 2011 at 13:17 | #4

    I wonder if the God that asked some of his followers to bomb the Twin Towers is the same God that created something as beautiful of the ocean. There are many Gods the bible says, but only one loves you. And love is his mark… not destruction.

  5. sara
    July 27th, 2011 at 02:39 | #5

    Nice outlook. all of which came from the old testiment; before
    jesus painfully died on the cross for our sin. Giving us all forgivness. Love. Peace and change.

  6. leon_the_14
    February 12th, 2011 at 07:26 | #6

    @We the People
    There is only 1 GOD.
    Whether you call him Jehovah, Allah, the Holy Father or simply the God of Abraham isnt really all that relevant but it is the same entity, intellect and being.
    The Creator of All without exception.
    The OT and the Koran are essentially the same, the lessons are the same.
    The infidels are those who turn their back on Jehovah to pursue hedonistic activities, they know what they do is wrong and yet continue to do it because their physical being is more important to them than their spiritual being – this is especially true in the West.
    There is only one GOD because there is only one point of origin for all creation.
    Praise Jehovah

  7. David96
    January 16th, 2011 at 00:12 | #7

    Sunday, October 29, 2000

  8. Markus
    August 14th, 2010 at 01:38 | #8


    Sounds your user name is pretty close to your IQ.

    Glad you accept the Bible, but you only accept what suits you.

    So how come you do not adjust your life to the following scriptures, you should you know, for you accept the Bible, here is a letter written to radio psycologist
    Dr Laura Schlesinger, who, said that, as an observant Orthodox
    Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and
    cannot be condoned under any circumstance.

    Dear Dr. Laura:

    Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have
    learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with
    as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual
    lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly
    states it to be an abomination … End of debate.

    I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of
    God’s Laws and how to follow them.

    1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female,
    provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine
    claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify?
    Why can’t I own Canadians?

    2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus
    21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

    3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her
    period of Menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I
    tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

    4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a
    pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They
    claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

    5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2
    clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill
    him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

    6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an
    abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I
    don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

    7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a
    defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my
    vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

    8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair
    around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.
    19:27. How should they die?

    9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me
    unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

    10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different
    crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two
    different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse
    and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble
    of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we
    just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people
    who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

    Throw that stupid book away and get a life.


  9. Paulo
    August 9th, 2010 at 14:16 | #9

    just read on this site the watchtower and money link, hear my words but don’t look at my deeds.

  10. cookie
    January 29th, 2010 at 10:27 | #10

    I find it amazing that NO ONE CARES if you USED TO BE a Jew, a Catholic or a Baptist. She says she felt she left Jehovah’s Witnesses because she felt life was passing her by. Being a missionary is definitely a life of self sacrifice, putting God and others before oneself. In order to be a missionary, you have to live a simple life. This is a life many cannot understand. Why would someone GIVE UP a life of material goods. Because they love God and others MORE than they love material goods. No one criticizes Jesus who lived a simple life. He didn’t even own a home. His life was the ministry of his Heavenly Father.
    If all the people who CLAIM to be CHRISTIAN, followed the example of Jesus, and LIVED THE LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN, the world would be a much better place to live in.


  11. February 13th, 2008 at 21:32 | #11

    Good post. You make some great points that most people
    do not fully understand.

    “She has reason for this. To be black in America, according to her, is a political construct. Just as it took time to feel she had a voice, she says, ‘we have yet to feel within this country that we are home.’”

    I like how you explained that. Very helpful. Thanks.

  12. Zero
    May 10th, 2007 at 19:51 | #12

    It is the same problem, over and over. They follow their own selfish desires like Adam and Eve. Satan easily beats them. James 1:14 and 15. She left the organization to do what she wants, not what Jehovah wants. You want to see who you really are then measure yourself if you can by reading 1 corinthians 13: 4-8. Then read Romans 3:10-13. And ask yourself what is the reason the annointed take time to do this, to be slandered, disrespected, hated, etc. It is out of love, read Isaiah 48: 17-19. Then read Mathew 7: 15-20. Stop making excuses, you are either in the ark or out of the ark. Your choice. Is your role model Gloria Naylor or Jesus who put Jehovah first? Mathew 6:9

    The whole problem is that people fail to humble themselves to the faithful and discreet slave. Their pride, feelings, block them from following or trusting in Jehovah’s annointed ones. Take for example Moses.
    Jehovah chosed him to lead the Israelites, yet some people rebeled, as in the case of Korah. They followed their heart not Jehovah. (Jeremiah 17:9) and (Proverbs 21:2). Read Jeremiah 26:3-5 to get a better understanding of this. Mark 7: 20-23 shows where the whole problem is. Look at all the good things the WatchTower has done, they taught you God’s name, the ransom, the paradise, etc. Focusing on the negative shows traits like Satan. Of course the people are imperfect in the organization (Romans 3:23), but that shows how merciful Jehovah is. ( Micah 7:18 and 19 ). The bottom line is that when people are hurt they tend to follow the way they want, just as Satan said about Job. So wich way will you follow?

  13. Anonymous
    March 30th, 2007 at 01:47 | #13

    i hope one day she returns to the congregation.

  14. February 19th, 2007 at 04:57 | #14

    Hi, Gloria,
    I loved Brewster Place. I have been a witness all my life. I am 58 years old. I feel your pain, I need to leave this behind, but my children and their wives and grandchildren are here and I can’t leave them there without knowing what the are being taught. I worship God and I love Jesus and appreciate what he did for mankind. I will always accept the Bible itself and not a body of men claiming to be in the place of Jesus.
    Thank you,

  15. Anonymous
    July 17th, 2006 at 22:05 | #15

    Congrats Gloria

    April 30th, 2006 at 11:08 | #16



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