I have long been a fan of the African-American writer Gloria Naylor, whose career got off to a dazzling start when she won the American Book Award and the National Book Award in 1983 for her first novel, The Women of Brewster Place. (The book was adapted as a TV miniseries produced by Oprah Winfrey.) I also admired Naylor’s subsequent four novels, which range in genre from realism to magic realism. I anticipated each book with the same fervor as the new Toni Morrison or Alice Walker.
But Naylor seemingly vanished from the literary scene after the publication of her last book, The Men of Brewster Place, in 1998. When I read her obituary in 2016, I wondered why she hadn’t written more.
Naylor’s “A Question of Language,” an essay on the deconstruction of the word “nigger”and its meaning to men and women of different races, is widely anthologized. When I taught remedial writing at a community college, this essay sparked intense interest and discussion.
But is anyone still reading Naylor’s novels? The good news is: they are in print.
Here is one of my favorites:
Naylor is remarkable, and I’ll post more on her later.
Years ago, my book club introduced me to the African-American writer Samuel R. Delany‘s Babel-17, a novel about language which appealed as much to linguists as to SF fans. The heroine is a telepathic Chinese woman who is a poet and linguist trying to decode an alien language to stop a war. And Delany’s use of language is breathtaking.
And then I immersed myself in Delany’s 900-page post-apocalyptic postmodern novel, Dhalgren, a kind of counterculture Ulysses set in a dying Midwestern city that has been hit by an undefined catastrophe. Delany’s linguistic pyrotechnics are impressive, but I gave up on page 400.
So I’m taking it up where I left off. Wish me luck!