Gloria Naylor 'cut her teeth' on English classics

April 11, 1995|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

As a child, novelist Gloria Naylor didn't talk much. Pens and paper did that for her.

"I've written all my life," she said in a telephone interview yesterday. "I wrote as a way of expressing myself."

The National Book Award winner will discuss her works at the Howard County East Columbia Branch Library on Thursday during National Library Week at a 2 p.m. free event for which all the places already have been taken.

She will read from her quartet of novels before 100 people at the library and then during a 7 p.m. visit to the Howard County Community College for another program. That event also is free.

A book-signing and reception will come after the HCC appearance. Seating in the Smith Theatre is on a first-come, first-served basis.

The County Library, the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, the Maryland Humanities Council and the National Book Foundation are co-sponsoring her visit through a grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.

Last week, a George Washington University English professor led a group discussion at the library on Ms. Naylor's books: "The Women of Brewster Place," "Linden Hills," "Mama Day" and "Bailey's Cafe".

"I feel a lot of people are reading Gloria Naylor," said Patricia "Pat" Bates, the library's adult program coordinator, who noted that all of the author's books are checked out. "I've been a fan of Gloria Naylor's long before she was popular. I love her use of language and metaphors. Some of her writing sounds just like poetry."

Ms. Naylor is among a number of popular black women writers, including Terri McMillan, Toni Morrison and Bebe Moore Campbell, who are gaining more recognition through wider exposure.

Her appreciation for writing began when her mother gave the painfully shy girl of 12 a diary to express herself. And she read a lot, too. "I like to say I cut my teeth on the English classics . . . and definitely the works of early African-American writers, Zora Neale Hurston," Ms. Naylor, 45, said.

The author studied literature at Brooklyn College and Yale University, where she got her master's degree in 1983.

In 1981, she began working on her goal -- to complete a novel quartet. "That's why all four [books] are interconnected," she said.

In 1983, her first novel, "The Women of Brewster Place" was published. "Linden Hills" was published in 1986, "Mama Day" in 1989 and "Bailey's Cafe" in 1992. Ms. Naylor is working on a new novel in New York City, where she lives. She also runs a children's programming company there.

Television talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey adapted "The Women of Brewster Place" into a television miniseries, which first aired in March 1989. Both told the tale of the often painful and sad experiences of seven black women who live on the same street.

"For television, I think they did a good job," Ms. Naylor noted, adding she has no intention of adapting her other works for TV or film.

Ms. Naylor's appeal crosses color lines.

"I don't think it's just African-Americans who are reading Gloria Naylor," said Ms. Bates, of the county library. "I think [they are] people who just like good books."

Judy Dobbs, the deputy director of the Maryland Humanities Council, agrees.

"There's just a lot of interest, I think, in women writers, women who write like Gloria Naylor does, which I think is about the experiences of everyday women and men as well," said Ms. Dobbs. "I think it just really strikes a chord to hear these really sad but also uplifting experiences of women."

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