Hanif Abdurraqib on Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place

Hanif Abdurraqib (winner of a 2024 Windham Campbell Prize for Non-Fiction) joins Michael Kelleher to discuss his love for Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, writing about cities, the importance of community, and more.

For a full episode transcript, click here.


Reading list: 

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor Mama Day by Gloria Naylor • Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell • The Easy Rawlins novels by Walter Mosley • Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan

From the episode:

Hanif Abdurraqib: She’s, for me,one of my favorite writers of all time and I do sometimes feel like she does not get the credit she deserves. I mean, I think she’s massively influential. There’s kind of a direct line I think you can draw between Hurston to Alice Walker and Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor.

Gloria Naylor is a black woman writer who centered much of her writing on the interior lives of black women. She is from New York, like, born in New York and came from a family who had roots in Mississippi and they had been sharecroppers in Mississippi and that migrated to Harlem. The Women of Brewster Place it’s her first, first novel and I think maybe her most popular, but, you know, also Lyndon Hills and Mama Day—Lyndon Hills came out in, I want to say 1985, and Mama Day came out in 1988.

And her settings often took place in cities, you know, around black women living and surviving in cities. So New York was oftentimes a central point of her work.

Mike Kelleher: Yeah, one of the things that I found really fascinating about this book was the opening chapter, Dawn, where she’s kind of sketching out this almost like sociological history of Brewster Place that sort of tracks with, a half century of history, in America.

Specifically, you know, even though it’s not a named city, it definitely feels like a history of New York: it’s built under kind of shadowy circumstances for Irish immigrants and then they’re replaced by Italian immigrants and then they are ultimately replaced by African American immigrants who were migrating from the South during, the Great Migration.

It’s a really interesting way for her to frame this. Like, here we are, these people have come this far to arrive at this very specific place that has this very specific kind of history. I thought that was a really unique way to introduce these stories.

HA: Yeah, well, especially I mean, it’s, it’s a vague city, and this particular corner of the city is built under vague circumstances. Though, of course, I, I think, it does feel like the city could be Anywhere, but it also feels distinct to perhaps New York, or a place like New York and I don’t know if anyone remembers, if you remember, but there was a miniseries I got interested in the book because a miniseries came out and the miniseries had Oprah in it and Robin Givens was in it.

Until recently I’ve been calling it a movie, but now I’m remembering it was a multiple night miniseries. And the book, it almost requires that kind of mini series effect, because the book is kind of split, it’s told in like seven stories.

And six of them revolve around individuals, and then the kind of culminating story ties all of those individual stories together, to tell the story of the full community and it’s multi generational in this way and that really did a lot for me when I was young.

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