Gloria Naylor authored a book I’ve adored my entire life
That is why she is a treasured name on the list of The Women Who Led Me Home, Black Girl, Lost Key’s first Black History Month Project. It is the story of how these women’s words led me out of a deep depression I suffered from 2013-2016. I’m grateful for the words of each of these women, I believe they all taught me valuable lessons that I would not have learned were it not for them.
Growing up in the late ’80s and ’90s was a pretty great time to be alive. We played outside AND had Nintendo. We lived in that space between not being able to use the Internet while the phone line was in use to being able to check your email instantly from a device in the palm of your hand. I’m the last generation that can make such a claim, and I’m never sure if we’re better off now or if we were better off then. There are pros and cons for both, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss. Today I want to talk about one of my favorite black women and the work she birthed that also gave me something to hold on to in troubled times, though I was far too young to know anything about trouble then.
See, Gloria Naylor wrote a book called The Women of Brewster Place which was turned into a movie with every beautiful black woman in film just about. Oprah Winfrey, Jackeé Harris, Lynne Whitfield and more. The grungy reality of being disenfranchised, being poor, and being powerless as a woman jumped out to me. This black woman’s blues that sang to me about what it felt like to be unloved. About how it felt to be deserted by the men you’d thought would stick by your side. About how it felt to approach midlife and be lonely. How it felt to be a lesbian couple, living as close to out as you could while recognizing the inherent danger in all of it.
I was poor as a mouse, struggling to make it. I had a man in my life who was . . . less than helpful. Much like the men in The Women of Brewster Place, he left me to struggle, scrimp, and suffer on my own unless I was useful to him. Years later, looking through books in a bargain bin, I found a copy of Naylor’s The MEN Of Brewster Place. The tale I was so familiar with inverted, with the men I thought I knew so well telling what drove so many of them to do the miserable things they did. It reminded me not to excuse people for the wrong they’ve committed, but to consider that there may be a reason for the cruelty. Something I may never comprehend. Something that never had anything to do with me.
Thank you, Gloria Naylor, for teaching me that his behavior wasn’t my fault. Thank you for leading me home.
Thank you for teaching me about true friendship
I have had a propensity over the course of life for attracting friends who like to “keep it real.” They strapped their bluntness to their backs like a katana ready to be unsheathed and pointed with precision in your direction at a moment’s notice. These friends were not truth-tellers, though on the surface they looked that way. No, they were people who used half-truths to express the pain they were too cowardly to do the work to heal. There is a cutting in revealing reality to people, but there is also a balm to soothe the wound. The truth is not all damage. The truth is also restorative. I strive to be a friend who knows the time to wield both of these. And I’m grateful for the women who have always stood in the wings, watching me jump from ever higher heights, and prepared to treat me for whatever crash landing I attempt.
For teaching me to be aware of the world
Everyone wants to be a writer, but so many of them are looking for someone else’s story to tell. Part of being a writer is being able to tease out the magnificent in the mundane. Every life is housing the extraordinary; it is the job of the storyteller to identify and put the spotlight on at the right moment. Gloria knew how to place the spotlight on the right moment, from breakfast with a wayward son out on bail, to the lonely ramblings of an old drunk. Her ability to convey the inner thought life of her characters is something I value in her as a writer more than anyone else. Her ability to observe is what makes her writing immortal.
For teaching me to be more cautious with my pity
Caught in the throes of an abusive relationship I was able to see the truth of this quote. People often ask women who are abused why they stay with partners who mistreat them, year in and year out. Beyond the fear, beyond the brainwashing, many of us plain old pitied our abusers at first. Their terrible background. A lack of love in the home. Exposure to abuse at an early age. Parents who were too hard or too soft. That pity softens the heart and creates compassion where there should be none. We offer ourselves up to take on the rage that rightfully belongs to those who did the damage. Our offering far from being well-received turns to contempt on the part of the abuser. Our pity breeds with their contempt bearing forth a nightmare that we must escape.
For appreciating other ways to express the pain
Music has been the constant in my life, the one thing that I can turn to when there are no words left to say. There’s something inextricably linked about the black experience and song and music and dance. It is in our bones. When the pain becomes too great, we can always return to the song. It will be there waiting for us.
For inspiring confidence
Confidence is what so many of us have taken from us. Whether we have it snatched away by cruel teachers, knocked out at the hands of abusers, or merely taken by our own minds, confidence is the final frontier for so many of us. It has been a long road to come back to confidence. There was a time when, as trite as it sounds, I could no longer look myself in the mirror. I didn’t understand how I had allowed myself to come so low. To be so dependent on another. Yet over time, I came around. Just like we can lose confidence, we can regain it. Like learning to walk after an accident.
The final word is Gloria’s
Thank you for reading The Women Who Led Me Home. Each piece will appear on the Sundays spanning Black History and Women’s History Month to highlight the intersection of femininity and race. To read the previous woman’s story, click here. To start at the beginning, click here.
To learn more about Gloria Naylor, head here: https://theundefeated.com/features/gloria-naylor-death-women-brewster-place/
To read the iconic The Women of Brewster Place, head here: https://amzn.to/38xMa01 (affiliate link)
To read the sequel, The Men of Brewster Place, grab it here: https://amzn.to/2SxWHmc (affiliate link)
To watch the television series that so many of us know and love, head here: https://amzn.to/2vDyv8W ( affiliate link)
Photo credit: By David Shankbone – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2584125