This story originally appeared on Entertainment Weekly
Naylor died Wednesday in the Virgin Islands from a heart attack, her sister Bernice Harrison told Ebony magazine, which first reported the news. “She was a wonderful person, very generous, kind, and thoughtful,” Harrison told Ebony.
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The celebrated writer — whose work examined the lives of African-American women and topics such as friendship, love, sexuality, and spirituality — won a National Book Award in 1983 for The Women of Brewster Place, which was her debut novel. In 1989, the book was adapted by Oprah Winfrey into a TV miniseries starring Winfrey, Cicely Tyson, Mary Alice, and Olivia Cole. The novel was later adapted into a musical.
Naylor, who grew up in New York City, attended Brooklyn College and received a master’s in African-American studies from Yale University. She went on to teach writing and literature at several universities, and continued to publish books and stories through the years, including 1998’s The Men of Brewster Place.
In her National Book Award acceptance speech, Naylor credited her mother for her love of books. “It was through my mother’s genes that I received my passionate love of books,” Naylor wrote. “But she was never able to indulge fully in that love because she grew up in Mississippi and she wasn’t allowed into the public libraries. And so she worked in the fields in her spare afternoons to get the extra money to send away to book clubs. And she made a vow to herself that all of her children would be born in the North. She kept that promise.”
Naylor said she wrote The Women of Brewster Place “as a tribute to her and other black woman who, in spite of the very limited personal circumstances, somehow manage to hold a fierce belief in the limitless possibilities of the human spirit.”