Gloria Naylor, the award-winning novelist, has been in the background of my life for the past thirty years. Her connection began when Mother wrote her a congratulatory letter on the receipt of the National Book Award for The Women of Brewster Place. Later, Ms. Naylor wrote the following when Beacon Press reissued of The Street:
40 years ago Ann Petry brought the world to its feet with the artistry she displayed in this painfully honest and wrenching novel. Once again a standing ovation is due for this American classic.
Mother wrote in her journal on Oct. 29, 1985, when the new edition arrived:
Yesterday a book package from Beacon Press – opened it and there was the Beacon Press edition of The Street published 40 years ago – and I swear the sight of it – the sight of that blurb on the front – written by Gloria Naylor … – the whole thing, the sight of this book in print – was for me a moving sight – brought back memories of the time when a representative of H.M. Co. told me in the company’s NY office that it wasn’t possible to say whether I had won the H.M. Co. Literary Fellowship but that they surely wanted to publish my novel.
Anyway I was so pleased – book sent first class – with a note saying that this was the first copy off the press.
She wrote to her Beacon contact, adding, “P.S. Hurrah for Gloria Naylor’s: “Once again a standing ovation is due for this American classic.”
A few years later, Ms. Naylor was the guest speaker at Ann Petry Day at Trinity College that my friend Farah Jasmine Griffin organized. It was a glorious day, and as a result Ms. Naylor had one significant impact on my life, though I’m certain she never knew it.
She and Mother chatted during a break, and Ms. Naylor expressed some regret at the delay in finishing her undergraduate degree. Mother said, “You shouldn’t worry about that.” She went on to explain that she thought the conformity in most education beyond high school stifled the imagination and the writer’s creativity. Better, Mother said, to learn on your own.
I was so surprised that I didn’t think to challenge her with names of the famous and talented, college educated, writers (besides Naylor): Balzac, Welty, Updike, Kafka, Malamud, Graves, Solzhenitsyn. Later I realized that by sending me to a liberal arts college, Mother had done her best to deflect me from her path.
Thank you, Gloria Naylor, for enabling this insight and for your major contribution to our literary canon. You died too young. RIP.