The one library in Robinsonville, Miss., was not for blacks - not in the 1940 s. So Gloria Naylor's mother worked overtime in the fields picking cotton. With the extra earnings, she sent away for books - because book clubs didn't know what color she was.
''What I got from her was my love of books,'' says Ms. Naylor, a creative writing teacher at George Washington University and author of ''The Women of Brewster Place,'' her first novel.
She was six years old when her mother took her to the library to get a library card. Thus began a love affair with ''eons of books'' that subsequently led Ms. Naylor to write her own. Today she holds one of the most prestigious positions to which an American writer can aspire - winner of the 1983 American Book Award.
In this modest northwest side apartment a quick jog from Malcolm X Park, signs of her second novel are strewn atop a small corner desk. On a nearby wall hangs a poster of a black woman gazing upward. Inscribed on the bottom are the famed words of Dr. Martin Luther King, ''I have a dream.''
Sitting on a brown and white tweed sofa, Ms. Naylor chats in soft, genteel tones about her emergence as a distinguished writer.
''I didn't really call myself a writer, believe it or not, until last year,'' she says with amusement.
Yet to call Gloria Naylor anything but a writer would be absurd, for with this single novel she has made a notable contribution to American literature - particularly black American writings.
In relation to other black women writers, ''she ranks right among the best,'' says Johnnella Butler, associate professor of Afro-American studies at Smith College. ''She demonstrates right away that she has the ability to write in a way that captures the essence of a human situation.''