KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
We're going to take a couple of minutes to remember writer Gloria Naylor, who died last week. She's best known for her award-winning novel "The Women of Brewster Place." Her work focused on the lives of African-American women. NPR's Lynn Neary has more.
LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: When Gloria Naylor won the National Book Award for her first novel, "The Women of Brewster Place," in 1983, she told the audience that it was her mother who had instilled a passion for reading in her as a child.
The book tells the story of seven black women who all live in the same New York apartment building. Naylor said it was a tribute to women like her mother who fiercely believe in the possibilities of the human spirit despite their own limited circumstances.
TAYARI JONES: Gloria Naylor was so frank about the challenges and also the glory of being a black woman.
NEARY: Writer Tayari Jones was in the 9th grade when she first read "The Women of Brewster Place." Jones says at the time, the novel's depictions of subjects like rape and homosexuality were shocking. When the book was made into a TV miniseries in 1989, it brought issues to the small screen that were rarely seen back then.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE")
LONETTE MCKEE: (As Lorraine) Have you noticed that people aren't as nice as they used to be?
PAULA KELLY: (As Theresa) What people, Lorraine?
MCKEE: (As Lorraine) People in this building. They hardly speak to me anymore, and it wasn't like that when we first moved in. It makes me wonder. What are they thinking?
NEARY: Naylor faced a backlash from some who criticized her depictions of the black community and especially black men. Novelist Tayari Jones says she admired Naylor's courage in the face of criticism and looked up to her as a model and a mentor.
JONES: There was just so much passion, complication and also consequence to the women's choices. And I learned that an individual woman's choice can make a novel.
NEARY: Naylor continued to write about black women's lives in such novels as "Linden Hills" and "Bailey's Cafe." In a 1992 NPR interview, Naylor acknowledged she had a melancholic outlook on life.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GLORIA NAYLOR: I am a pessimist, yes, which just means that its romantic has been kicked in the heart one time too many. You know, people without hope do not write books (laughter).
NEARY: Naylor had been living in the Virgin Islands where she died following a heart attack. She was 66 years old. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.