I loved Gloria Naylor’s writing in The Women Of Brewster Place. The type of story telling that makes you feel like your aunt or grandmother is sitting you down telling you about someone’s life RIGHT NOW! There are passages that I read in The Women Of Brewster Place that described transitions in time so well, I couldn’t help but imagine it on screen. One of my favourites is the description of Mattie’s son Michael growing into a man and the changes that occurred around him. In less than a page and through the simple visual of him out growing his high chair, eventually a man indulging in a cup of coffee!
Turns out there has been a screen adaptation: A Harpo produced mini series back in the 80s starring some greats. Robin Givens, Jackee Harry, Lynne Whitfield, Oprah Winfrey. It also starred Cicely Tyson, true pioneer and legend who we sadly lost yesterday. May she rest well.
Naylor tells the stories of a number of Black women who live in Brewster Place, a rundown housing development in an unnamed city. Mattie, Etta Mae, Ciel and Kiswana, are some of the distinct characters we meet in these impactful, intertwined short stories. Through their lives, The Woman Of Brewster Place gives a glimpse into the challenges faced by Black women in urban settings at the hands of the state but also through their interactions with Black men. As a by product, it also examines masculinity. There’s a Men Of Brewster Place book for that though.
The Women Of Brewster Place captures Black women in a multitude of dimensions. It’s done in a way that, maybe only a Black woman can.
On paper, this is a book I would have thought I ‘d dislike! I think for a long time, I have been avoiding The Women Of Brewster Place because I don’t enjoy reading trauma- especially of Black Women, especially in this wild panoramic. There is a lot of trauma (including some domestic violence) here and while I am not a fan of that, I understand that it forms part of a genuine narrative without being gratuitous. In fact, having read The Women Of Brewster Place, I think it would be very difficult to watch.
The trauma isn’t what makes the stories. What headlines here is far more powerful. It’s the genuine hope, inspiration and love that Black women offer each other. These women knew that in adversity, they could build spirit in each other. With warmth but also with sometimes with scepticism, the belief in community did prevail. Not all endings were sweet but I don’t think that was the point.
Black women across a spectrum
The Women Of Brewster Place captures Black women in a multitude of dimensions. It’s done in a way that, maybe only a Black woman can. There is strength, there is weakness, there is love, there is envy, there is resourcefulness, there is gratification. Those in middle class comfort, those in working class rebellion. Women who share a platonic love, women who share a romantic love. Women who accept status quo and those who will never. Women who succumb to men often and those who will never. Mothers, daughters, colours, layers. It is all there in one building!
One thing I think I am obsessed with is people, relationships and events evolving over time within a small defined locale. Don’t know why, maybe I missed a calling in anthropology (or local gossip, could be either). The Women Of Brewster Place definitely gave me that, over generations, in less that 200 pages! Right at the start, Gloria Naylor grabbed me with the brief description of Brewster Place’s changing demographics over the years and the deliberate gentrification that built it.
I have definitely found a new writer to enjoy in Gloria Naylor and I will be reading more from her. Hopefully something that won’t smash my heart! I’ve got my eye on Linden Hills
The Women Of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor, first published by Viking (Penguin) in 1982. Edition shown above published by Minerva in 1990. Won The American Book Award and The National Book Award