Gloria Naylor Discusses Her Novel The Men of Brewster Place on
by Gloria Naylor
Published: Thursday, May 28, 1998

Moderator: Welcome, Gloria Naylor! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening. How are you doing tonight?

Gloria Naylor: I am doing fine.

Niki from Sudbury, MA: What was the inspiration behind some of the men of Brewster Place? Where they inspired by actual individuals?

GN: No, they weren’t. These were the same men that had been operating in the first novel, THE

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WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE. I took them out of that context and gave them a chance to tell their own stories.

Rose from Orlando, Fl: I read MAMA DAY and really liked it. Were you influenced by Zora Neale Hurston’s use of voodoo in her writings?

GN: I was influenced by her but not because of her voodoo studies; what I like about Hurston’s work is that it is lyrical, and she told the story of just plain working-class people.

Clio from New York, NY: How did you react to winning the National Book Award with your first novel? That is truly incredible.

GN: Well, I took it all in my stride. I knew that I had a lot of work left to do, there were other novels I wanted to write. So while it was quite pleasing to receive the award, I tried to make sure that it didn’t distract me from the road ahead.

Veronica from Bellingham, WA: I am curious to find out a little bit about your youth. Were you raised on Brewster Place? Is it a real street?

GN: Brewster Place is not a real street. I put it nowhere so it could be everywhere. I am a native New Yorker; my parents were from the South. They arrived in New York a month before I was born, so while my parents were Mississipians, I was a native New Yorker.

Carol from St, Marys, GA: Firstly, I just finished your book this morning and I loved it!!! I would like to know why you chose the characteristics that each man possessed. Every one of those men could have been someone’s brother, husband, or friend. Was that the primary reason you chose those realistic features?

GN: No, I wanted just to give these characters a chance to tell their own stories. It is a compliment that you think this way about the male characters, because every writer wants to paint realistic people, and while I didn’t pattern these men after any living men, I am glad to know that you made a connection.

Berry from Williamsburg: Both of your Brewster Place books are based on the comings and goings of people in communities. What is your opinion on the state of community in our country? Any thoughts on what we can do to improve the bonds between neighbors and increase racial harmony in communities?

GN: I think the best way to increase racial harmony is to get to know each other. Blacks and whites in this country now live in separate neighborhoods, worship in separate churches, etc. With people so isolated from each other, it is difficult to get tolerance. The first step is simply to get to know each other. As far as communities in this country, they are being dissolved and replaced by consumerism. What was once downtown is now moving into malls. I am on a book tour right now, and I had to pass through Minneapolis and I saw the Mall of America. It was exhilarating at the same time it was sad. These malls will replace the downtown centers of most American cities, and it will change our sense of community and our ideas of leisure time.

Sharon from Oyster Bay, NY: Who are a few of your favorite contemporary authors? What about literary influences?

GN: I have been influenced by both the English classics — Dickens, the Bront’s, Austen — and on the other hand I have been influenced by Zora Neal Hurston, Alice Walker. So it is a combination of the two that have nourished me as a writer.

Lenea from Plano, TX: How long did it take you to write THE MEN OF BREWSTER PLACE? What is your writing schedule like?

GN: It took me about a year to write this book. I don’t know what you mean by writing schedule, the process or the length….

Clarissa N. from Oak Park, IL: Do you prefer writing screenplays or do you enjoy writing novels? Is the process very different?

GN: Well, the process is very different. With a novel you are telling a story in words only; in a screenplay you tell the story with pictures. So they are directly opposite to each other. I am primarily a novelist, but I also like to think of myself as a communicator, and I enjoy whatever the process is that helps me communicate. I love working in the theater, and I love screenplays. I had one of my plays produced and that is a wonderful feeling, but I am first and foremost a novelist.

Carla from Chicago, IL: Are you still close with Oprah? What do you think about the tremendous effect Oprah’s Book Club has on national sales of the books chosen for the book club?

GN: I think it is a good thing, because it will get more and more people into the bookstores, and when they are in there to buy one book, they will browse around. I think anything that encourages people to read is a good thing.

Dale from Richmond, VA: I am curious about your writing process — you produce such creative work! Do you construct outlines for your books first? Use character sketches? Do you know the basic plotline and characters before you set out writing?

GN: I do know the basic plot, but that plot changes once your characters begin to develop because they become like real people, and they make their own decisions after a while. While I do have an outline, it turns out no longer useful because my book has gotten deeper than I anticipated in the beginning. I consider my books character-driven; they gain life and I proceed to follow them.

Carol from St. Marys, GA: My 11-year-old daughter wants to know if you write children’s books. She is an avid reader, and I want her to read as many books about black characters as possible. If you do not write children’s books, could you suggest some books that you read as a young child?

GN: I would suggest that you give your daughter anything by Virginia Hamilton, a wonderful children’s book writer as well as an African American. I myself have written one children’s book, yet to be published.

Alton from mbs on-line: We host a site called the Writer’s Hall of Fame. Frequently we receive questions from aspiring authors asking what they need to do to get their works published. What advice would you give someone that really has a passion for writing?

GN: I would recommend that the first thing you do is get an agent who will be a champion for your work, because more houses are becoming conglomerates. So find an agent who believes in the work that you do and becomes your advocate and navigates you through that whole morass that is the book publishing industry in America.

Tamara from Philadelphia: I am interested in getting your opinion of the state of minorities in this country. Do you think the situation is getting better in general?

GN: I think there has been change, but it is not enough to have change, you also need progress. While many people have benefited by the civil rights movement, mostly the middle class, that still leaves a large amount of people who don’t see the "American dream." As a matter of fact I don’t even believe in the American dream — there are people who do work hard, and they don’t become the head of Chrysler.

Caroline from Hoboken, NJ: Are there any plans to bring THE MEN OF BREWSTER PLACE to the big screen?

GN: No, there are no plans as of yet.

Lisa from NYC: Do you have any desire to write either nonfiction or short stories? Thanks! I am a huge fan of your writing, and I really enjoyed the collection of short stories you edited.

GN: No, I don’t have any plans right now to work on any short stories. From time to time I write essays. I am currently working on something for cable and hopefully another play.

Megan Whiley from San Diego: Do your characters stay with you after you write about them so long? Do you think of them as old friends? What is your favorite character you have created?

GN: I don’t have a favorite. Each of them has brought me something special, and they do stay and linger after the book. But by that time I am already thinking of new characters and a new book, so they do slowly fade away.

Rory from Florida: Hello, Gloria, I have two questions for you: 1)How do you overcome writer’s block? 2)What are your future plans for writing? Thanks a bunch!!!!

GN: Writer’s block is just difficult — sometimes a good snort of Scotch helps, but for the most part I will play music and go about my life thinking I am not blocked, and something slowly does happen. It is a terrifying feeling to have writer’s block.

Niki from Sudbury, MA: What are your future writing plans? Are you writing a new novel? Can you give us a sneak preview?

GN: No, I am not writing a new novel right now. Like I said before I hope to write a play for stage and something for cable TV.

Monica N. from Pittsford, NY: Does your new book, THE MEN OF BREWSTER PLACE, explore similar themes to THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE? If so, what are some?

GN: No, it explores different themes, because I have a different cast of characters. What I am trying to show in THE MEN OF BREWSTER PLACE is black men’s relations with families and communities.

Megan from Virginia: Do you read your book reviews? How much weight do you give reviewers’ criticism of your books?

GN: Very little weight. They will either love you or not. You can’t concentrate on something like that. You like good reviews, but you can’t let bad reviews stand in your way, you just need to go on to the next project.

Paul from Brooklyn, NY: Are you still teaching?

GN: No, I am not.

Martha from Chevy Chase, MD: I saw you read at Vertigo books a few weeks back, and I thought you were awesome. Do you enjoy doing readings?

GN: I do. It depends on where I am in the whole process. I even like reading from works in progress. It is always nice to read from a new book. It always give you hope to go on to the next one.

Chantel from Georgia: I’m sorry, I’m not very familiar with your work, but a dear friend recommended your writings. How many books have you written?

GN: I have written five novels and edited one anthology.

Haley from NC: Where do you get your ideas?

GN: From everywhere, and when one idea begins to haunt me, it is time to go in search of that story.

John from I have got to tell you that I read and loved Carol Shields’s STONE DIARIES, then I read her recent book, LARRY’S PARTY, and was somewhat disappointed. I read THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE and loved it, and I have recently picked up a copy of THE MEN OF BREWSTER PLACE, and I also thought it was great. I don’t have a question, more of a comment, commending your wonderful new novel.

GN: Thank you! from Studio City, CA: Hello, Ms. Naylor. THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE is one of my all-time favorite novels. What are some of your interests outside of writing?

GN: I like to garden, and I like to listen to music. I like to take long walks to clear my head.

Santiga from Delaware: Black men get a lot of flak these days about how they run out on their families and fail in their role as the head of the household. More and more young black children are raised by poor black mothers. Any thoughts on this problem? What can we do to keep black families together and encourage men to stay in their children’s lives?

GN: There is no easy answer to that. It is a question about morality. I don’t think we respect the rights of children at all in this country. We need to realize we weaken a community when we weaken family ties. I have no answer for individual questions. Two thirds of black men in this country are trying to keep their families together and keep their communities together; we never hear about those two thirds. We only hear about the other one third. I call that two thirds the Invisible Two Thirds.

Julia from Coney Island: Hey there, Gloria. I am way psyched to see you’re doing things online. What do you think about the Internet? Are you online a lot yourself?

GN: I used to be online, then I got offline because somebody hacked my account, and I haven’t been online since then. But I think it can be a wonderful tool for knowledge.

Rayanne from Newport News: Do you write poetry? Do you have any favorite poets? I just discovered black poet Pamela Sneed and love her.

GN: I don’t write poetry anymore. I used to try to write poetry, but one of my favorite poets is Nikki Giovanni.

Sarah Tucker from Newport, RI: Do you think there will be another Brewster Place novel? Do you feel a sense of closure now or do you have more to say about that community?

GN: I feel total closure now. Total. There won’t be THE CHILDREN OF BREWSTER PLACE or THE PETS OF BREWSTER PLACE. I have told the whole story.

Nancy from North Carolina: Good evening, Ms. Naylor. I just wanted to let you know that I am a huge fan and I love your books. Please keep writing because we are still reading.

GN: Fans are very important, and thank you very much!

Moderator: Thank you for joining us online. Do you have any parting words for the online audience?

GN: Thank you! I just wanted to tell any aspiring writers out there to continue writing and follow your dream.