Sharon A. Lewis and Ama S. Wattley, eds. Gloria Naylor’s Fiction: Contemporary
Explorations of Class and Capitalism. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017. 142 pp.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4438-9591-0 Hardback. 58.99 British Pounds. $76.48 on Amazon.com
ISBN-13: 978-1-5275-0885-9 Paperback. 39.99 British Pounds.
Gloria Naylor lived only 66 years, but she left a valuable literary legacy. She gave the keynote
address for the College Language Association banquet at the 2006 convention, hosted by the
University of Alabama at Birmingham. Naylor’s prose is celebrated for its poetic quality, its
powerful imagery, and its memorable characters. Her debut novel, The Women of Brewster
Place, won the National Book Award and was adapted into both a 1989 television mini-series
starring Oprah Winfrey and a musical. Her work has been the subject of several book-length
studies, many interviews, and dozens of essays.
This collection of six essays and the editors’ introduction adds an important perspective to the
existing body of critical work discussing five of Gloria Naylor’s six novels. (Her 2005 novel/
fictionalized memoir entitled 1996 is not the subject of any of the essays in this collection and is
not mentioned in the editors’ introduction.) The specific focus on class and capitalism
distinguishes these essays from the other critical sources about Naylor’s works. In their
introduction to this volume, editors Sharon A. Lewis and Ama S. Wattley carefully distinguish
social class from social status. Concentration on socioeconomic conditions and attitudes within
the Black community guides a specifically focused examination of these novels. The primary
interpretive tool for this collection is Marxist literary criticism with an additional lens of
The Women of Brewster Place (1982), Mama Day (1988), Bailey’s Café (1992), and The Men of
Brewster Place (1998) are all the central focus of one essay apiece in this collection. Given the
socioeconomic theme of the volume, it is quite appropriate that Linden Hills (1985)—which
dwells upon the upper class—is analyzed in two of the essays.
Anita August brings her experience as a novelist and scholar of visual culture to bear in her essay
“I Need a Price to Watch Over Me. Really?! Re-Visioning ‘Happily Ever After’ in Gloria
Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place.” Her focus on paternalism as it impacts women’s
financial success brings a gendered lens to the economic analysis. Given the discussions of class,
Kiswana Browne and her naïve interactions with Cora Lee illustrate the distinctions in values
and priorities, since Kiswana is “the only resident to choose Brewster Place,” as August notes
(31). Naylor’s emphasis on woman-centered support rather than the fairy tale Prince is
emphasized. The homoerotic relationship between Mattie Michael and Etta Mae Johnson is
discussed and is contrasted to the “taboo lesbian relationship” between Lorraine and Theresa, or
“The Two,” as their chapter in...