Mama Day: A Novel

Mama Day: A Novel

by Gloria Naylor

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A “wonderful novel” steeped in the folklore of the South from the New York Times–bestselling author of The Women of Brewster Place (The Washington Post Book World).

On an island off the coast of Georgia, there’s a place where superstition is more potent than any trappings of the modern world. In Willow Springs, the formidable Mama Day uses her powers to heal. But her great niece, Cocoa, can’t wait to get away.
In New York City, Cocoa meets George. They fall in love and marry quickly. But when she finally brings him home to Willow Springs, the island’s darker forces come into play. As their connection is challenged, Cocoa and George must rely on Mama Day’s mysticism.
Told from multiple perspectives, Mama Day is equal parts star-crossed love story, generational saga, and exploration of the supernatural. Hailed as Gloria Naylor’s “richest and most complex” novel, it is the kind of book that stays with you long after the final page (Providence Journal).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504043151
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 03/14/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 9,529
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Gloria Naylor (1950–2016) grew up in New York City. She received her bachelor of arts in English from Brooklyn College and her master of arts in Afro-American Studies from Yale University. Her first novel, The Women of Brewster Place, won the National Book Award. She is also the author of Linden Hills, Mama Day, Bailey's Cafe, The Men of Brewster Place, and the fictionalized memoir 1996.

Read an Excerpt

Mama Day

A Novel

By Gloria Naylor


Copyright © 1998 Gloria Naylor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-4315-1


You were picking your teeth with a plastic straw — I know, I know, it wasn't really a straw, it was a coffee stirrer. But, George, let's be fair, there are two little openings in those things that you could possibly suck liquid through if you were desperate enough, so I think I'm justified in calling it a straw since dumps like that Third Avenue coffee shop had no shame in calling it a coffee stirrer, when the stuff they poured into your cup certainly didn't qualify as coffee. Everything about those types of places was a little more or less than they should have been. I was always thrown off balance: the stainless steel display cases were too clean, and did you ever notice that the cakes and pies inside of them never made crumbs when they were cut, and no juice ever dripped from the cantaloupes and honeydews? The Formica tabletops were a bit too slippery for your elbows, and the smell of those red vinyl seats — always red vinyl — seeped into the taste of your food, which came warm if it was a hot dish and warm if it was a cold dish. I swear to you, once I got warm pistachio ice cream and it was solid as a rock. Those places in New York were designed for assembly-line nutrition, and it worked — there was nothing in there to encourage you to linger. Especially when the bill came glued to the bottom of your dessert plate — who would want to ask for a second cup of coffee and have to sit there watching a big greasy thumbprint spread slowly over the Thank You printed on the back?

I suppose you had picked up the stirrer for your coffee because you'd already used the teaspoon for your soup. I saw the waitress bring you the Wednesday special, and that meant pea soup, which had to be attacked quickly before it lumped up. So not risking another twenty-minute wait for a soup spoon, you used your teaspoon, which left you without anything to use in your coffee when it came with the bill. And obviously you knew that our pleasant waitress's "Catch ya in a men-it, Babe," doomed you to either your finger, a plastic stirrer, or coffee straight up. And you used plenty of sugar and milk. That guy knows the art of dining successfully on Third Avenue, I thought. When the lunch menu has nothing priced above six dollars, it's make do if you're gonna make it back to work without ulcers.

And there wasn't a doubt in my mind that you were going back to some office or somewhere definite after that meal. It wasn't just the short-sleeved blue shirt and tie; you ate with a certain ease and decisiveness that spelled employed with each forkful of their stringy roast beef. Six months of looking for a job had made me an expert at picking out the people who, like me, were hurrying up to wait — in somebody's outer anything for a chance to make it through their inner doors to prove that you could type two words a minute, or not drool on your blouse while answering difficult questions about your middle initial and date of birth.

By that August I had it down to a science, although the folks here would say that I was gifted with a bit of Mama Day's second sight. Second sight had nothing to do with it: in March of that year coats started coming off, and it was the kind of April that already had you dodging spit from the air conditioners along the side streets, so by midsummer I saw it all hanging out — those crisp butterflies along the avenues, their dresses still holding the sharp edges of cloth that had been under cool air all morning in some temperature-controlled box. Or the briefcases that hung near some guy's thigh with a balance that said there was more in them than empty partitions and his gym shorts. And I guess being a woman, I could always tell hair: heads are held differently when they've been pampered every week, the necks massaged to relax tense muscles "so the layers will fall right, dear." The blondes in their Dutch-Boy cuts, my counterparts in Jerri curls, those Asian women who had to do practically nothing to be gorgeous with theirs so they frizzed it or chopped it off, because then everybody knew they had the thirty-five dollars a week to keep it looking that way. Yeah, that group all had jobs. And it was definitely first sight on any evening rush-hour train: all those open-neck cotton shirts — always plaid or colored — with the dried sweat marks under the arms of riders who had the privilege of a seat before the north-bound IRT hit midtown because those men had done their stint in the factories, warehouses, and loading docks farther down on Delancey or in East New York or Brooklyn.

But it took a little extra attention for the in-betweens: figuring out which briefcases that swung with the right weight held only pounds of résumés, or which Gucci appointment books had the classifieds neatly clipped out and taped onto the pages so you'd think she was expected wherever she was heading instead of just expected to wait. I have to admit, the appointment-book scam took a bit of originality and class. That type knew that a newspaper folded to the last section was a dead giveaway. And I don't know who the others were trying to fool by pretending to scan the headlines and editorial page before going to the classifieds and there finally creasing the paper and shifting it an inch or two closer to their faces. When all else failed, I was left with watching the way they walked — either too determined or too hesitantly through some revolving door on Sixth Avenue. Misery loves company, and that's exactly what I was searching for on the streets during that crushing August in New York. I out-and-out resented the phonies, and when I could pick one out I felt a little better about myself. At least I was being real: I didn't have a job, and I wanted one — badly. When your unemployment checks have a remaining life span that's shorter than a tsetse fly's, and you know that temp agencies are barely going to pay your rent, and all the doorways around Times Square are already taken by very determined-looking ladies, masquerades go right out the window. It's begging your friends for a new lead every other day, a newspaper folded straight to the classifieds, and a cup of herb tea and the house salad anywhere the bill will come in under two bucks with a table near the air conditioner.

While you finished your lunch and were trying to discreetly get the roast beef from between your teeth, I had twenty minutes before the next cattle call. I was to be in the herd slotted between one and three at the Andrews & Stein Engineering Company. And if my feet hadn't swollen because I'd slipped off my high heels under the table, I might have gone over and offered you one of the mint-flavored toothpicks I always carried around with me. I'd met quite a few guys in restaurants with my box of toothpicks: it was a foolproof way to start up a conversation once I'd checked out what they ordered and how they ate it. The way a man chews can tell you loads about the kind of lover he'll turn out to be. Don't laugh — meat is meat. And you had given those three slabs of roast beef a consideration they didn't deserve, so I actually played with the idea that you might be worth the pain of forcing on my shoes. You had nice teeth and strong, blunt fingers, and your nails were clean but, thank God, not manicured. I had been trying to figure out what you did for a living. The combination of a short-sleeved colored shirt and knit tie could mean anything from security guard to eccentric V.P. Regardless, anyone who preferred a plastic stirrer over that open saucer of toothpicks near the cash register, collecting flecks of ear wax and grease from a hundred rummaging fingernails, at least had common sense if not a high regard for the finer points of etiquette.

But when you walked past me, I let you and the idea go. My toothpicks had already gotten me two dates in the last month: one whole creep and a half creep. I could have gambled that my luck was getting progressively better and you'd only be a quarter creep. But even so, meeting a quarter creep in a Third Avenue coffee shop usually meant he'd figure that I would consider a free lecture on the mating habits of African violets at the Botanical Gardens and dinner at a Greek restaurant — red vinyl booths — a step up. That much this southern girl had learned: there was a definite relationship between where you met some guy in New York and where he asked you out. Now, getting picked up in one of those booths at a Greek restaurant meant dinner at a mid-drawer ethnic: Mexican, Chinese, southern Italian, with real tablecloths but under glass shields, and probably Off-Broadway tickets. And if you hooked into someone at one of those restaurants, then it was out to top-drawer ethnic: northern Italian, French, Russian, or Continental, with waiters, not waitresses, and balcony seats on Broadway. East Side restaurants, Village jazz clubs, and orchestra seats at Lincoln Center were nights out with the pool you found available at Maxwell's Plum or any singles bar above Fifty-ninth Street on the East Side, and below Ninety-sixth on the West.

I'd never graduated to the bar scene because I didn't drink and refused to pay three-fifty for a club soda until the evening bore returns. Some of my friends said that you could run up an eighteen-dollar tab in no time that way, only to luck out with a pink quarter creep who figured that because you were a black woman it was down to mid-drawer ethnic for dinner the next week. And if he was a brown quarter creep, he had waited just before closing time to pick up the tab for your last drink. And if you didn't show the proper amount of gratitude for a hand on your thigh and an invitation to his third-floor walkup into paradise, you got told in so many words that your bad attitude was the exact reason why he had come there looking for white girls in the first place.

I sound awful, don't I? Well, those were awful times for a single woman in that city of yours. There was something so desperate and sad about it all — especially for my friends. You know, Selma kept going to those fancy singles bars, insisting that was the only way to meet "certain" black men. And she did meet them, those who certainly weren't looking for her. Then it was in Central Park, of all places, that she snagged this doctor. Not just any doctor, a Park Avenue neurosurgeon. After only three months he was hinting marriage, and she was shouting to us about a future of douching with Chanel No. 5, using laminated dollar bills for shower curtains — the whole bit. And the sad thing wasn't really how it turned out — I mean, as weird as it was when he finally told her that he was going to have a sex-change operation, but he was waiting for the right woman who was also willing to get one along with him, because he'd never dream of sleeping with another man — even after the operation; weirder — and much sadder — than all of that, George, was the fact that she debated seriously about following him to Denmark and doing it. So let me tell you, my toothpicks, as small a gesture as they were, helped me to stay on top of all that madness.

I finally left the coffee shop and felt whatever life that might have been revived in my linen suit and hair wilting away. How could it get so hot along Third Avenue when the buildings blocked out the sunlight? When I had come to New York seven years before that, I wondered about the need for such huge buildings. No one ever seemed to be in them for very long; everyone was out on the sidewalks, moving, moving, moving — and to where? My first month I was determined to find out. I followed a woman once: she had a beehive hairdo with rhinestone bobby pins along the side of her head that matched the rhinestones on her tinted cat-eyed glasses. Her thumbnails were the only ones polished, in a glossy lacquer on both hands, and they were so long they had curled under like hooks. I figured that she was so strange no one would ever notice me trailing her. We began on Fifty-third Street and Sixth Avenue near the Sheraton, moved west to Eighth Avenue before turning right, where she stopped at a Korean fruit stand, bought a kiwi, and walked along peeling the skin with her thumbnails. I lost her at Columbus Circle; she threw the peeled fruit uneaten into a trash can and took the escalator down into the subway. As she was going down, another woman was coming up the escalator with two bulging plastic bags. This one took me along Broadway up to where it meets Columbus Avenue at Sixty-third, and she sat down on one of those benches in the traffic median with her bags between her knees. She kept beating her heels against the sides and it sounded as if she had loose pots and pans in them. A really distinguished-looking guy with a tweed jacket and gray sideburns got up from the bench the moment she sat down, went into a flower shop across Columbus Avenue, came out empty-handed, and I followed him back downtown toward the Circle until we got to the entrance to Central Park. He slowed up, turned around, looked me straight in the face, and smiled. That's when I noticed that he had diaper pins holding his fly front together — you know, the kind they used to have with pink rabbit heads on them. I never thought anyone could beat my Central Park story until Selma met her neurosurgeon there. After that guy I gave up — I was exhausted by that time anyway. I hated to walk, almost as much as I hated the subways. There's something hypocritical about a city that keeps half of its population underground half of the time; you can start believing that there's much more space than there really is — to live, to work. And I had trouble doing both in spite of those endless classifieds in the Sunday Times. You know, there are more pages in just their Help Wanted section than in the telephone book here in Willow Springs. But it took me a while to figure out that New York racism moved underground like most of the people did.

Mama Day and Grandma had told me that there was a time when the want ads and housing listings in newspapers — even up north — were clearly marked colored or white. It must have been wonderfully easy to go job hunting then. You were spared a lot of legwork and headwork. And how I longed for those times, when I was busting my butt up and down the streets. I said as much at one of those parties Selma was always giving for her certain people. You would've thought I had announced that they were really drinking domestic wine, the place got that quiet. One of her certain people was so upset his voice shook: "You mean, you want to bring back segregation?" I looked at him like he was a fool — Where had it gone? I just wanted to bring the clarity about it back — it would save me a whole lot of subway tokens. What I was left to deal with were the ads labeled Equal Opportunity Employer, or nothing — which might as well have been labeled Colored apply or Take your chances. And if I wanted to limit myself to the sure bets, then it was an equal opportunity to be what, or earn what? That's where the headwork came in.

It's like the ad I was running down that afternoon: a one-incher in Monday's paper for an office manager. A long job description so there wasn't enough room to print Equal Opportunity Employer even if they were. They hadn't advertised Sunday, because I'd double-checked. They didn't want to get lost among the full and half columns the agencies ran. Obviously, a small operation. Andrews & Stein Engineering Company: It was half Jewish at least, so that said liberal — maybe. Or maybe they only wanted their own. I had never seen any Jewish people except on television until I arrived in New York. I had heard that they were clannish, and coming from Willow Springs I could identify with that. Salary competitive: that could mean anything, depending upon whether they were competing with Burger King or IBM. Position begins September 1st: that was the clincher, with all of the other questions hanging in the balance. If I got the job, I could still go home for mid-August. Even if I didn't get it, I was going home. Mama Day and Grandma could forgive me for leaving Willow Springs, but not for staying away.

I got to the address and found exactly what I had feared. A six-floor office building — low-rent district, if you could call anything low in New York. Andrews & Stein was suite 511. The elevator, like the ancient marble foyer and maroon print carpeting on the fifth floor, was worn but carefully maintained. Dimly lit hallways to save on overhead, and painted walls that looked just a month short of needing a fresh coat. I could see that the whole building was being held together by some dedicated janitor who was probably near retirement. Oh, no, if these folks were going to hire me, it would be for peanuts. Operations renting space in a place like this shelled out decent salaries only for Mr. Stein's brainless niece, or Mr. Andrews's current lay. Well, you're here, Cocoa, I thought, go through the motions.


Excerpted from Mama Day by Gloria Naylor. Copyright © 1998 Gloria Naylor. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Mama Day 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day proves well worth the read through a reflection of history. Firstly, the novel derives directly from slavery and how male slave owners often treated their female slaves. Mama Day follows the descendants of Sapphira Wade, a former slave who convinced her master to free his slaves and give them the deed to his land, afterward killing him. Sapphira’s legacy lives on throughout the novel, with Mama Day stating, “It ain’t about right or wrong, truth or lies, it’s about a slave woman who brought a whole new meaning to both them worlds, soon as you cross over here from beyond the bridge,” (Naylor 3). Sapphira Wade represents how male slave owners would often begin relationships with their slaves, using and discarding them whenever they pleased. The anomaly, however, lies within Sapphira’s power over her owner. Sapphira, unlike other slaves, has the power to change her fortune through conjuring. Her power changes the traditional narrative of helpless slaves into one more empowering and positive. Likewise, the traditional narrative further shifts through land ownership: “And the laws about slaves not owning nothing in Georgia and South Carolina don’t apply, ‘cause the land wasn’t then — and isn’t now — in either of them places,” (Naylor 5). Gloria Naylor paints a positive picture for Sapphira’s descendants, giving them the power of land ownership, a power vastly unseen during this period. Without slavery in general, Mama Day and other books reclaiming power for African Americans during this period could not exist. Furthermore, the culture and attitudes of the characters in Mama Day directly result from traditional African culture. African culture shapes the novel through the representation of a close-knit community, natural healing methods, and conjuring. Residents of Willow Springs watch out for one another, evident through Mama Day’s role as a healer in the community: “Miranda washes off the choke-cherry bark and then cuts a piece about the size of the last joint on her little finger. She has to be careful about this stuff — awful careful. It could kill as easy as cure,” (Naylor 82). Mama Day uses natural products when caring for others, a characteristic common in traditional African healing. Naylor’s depiction of Mama Day and her methods would not be possible without countless years of practice and history behind those methods. Additionally, the representation of conjuring in the novel would not exist without traditional African culture. “The shell dries and grows cold under the hidden moon. One pair of eyes unblinking, one pair frowns and smashes the egg into the porch steps… the moon inching towards the horizon… takes the egg while the shell’s still pulsing and wet, breaks it, and eats,” (Naylor 139). When her friend Bernice struggles with infertility, Mama Day performs a ritual in an attempt to aid her. Naylor’s inclusion of this scene results from African conjure methods and resources. The realism throughout Mama Day through conjuring and healing methods presents a narrative vastly unseen in most literature. Naylor’s ability to focus on African culture instead of slavery for most of the novel shows the progress literature and society has made in the past century. History has made Naylor’s portrayal of strong black women and their triumph over struggles possible, making Mama Day a novel well worth the read.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If someone, like David Wroblewski, wants to write a tragedy he should read a little Gloria Naylor to get some perspective on how it should be done. This is a powerful book with noble people - Mama Day, the matriarch we'd all want to turn to for strength, her loving sister Abigail, the fierce Cocoa, the proud and practical George. There's also a trifling worthless man, a colorful character and a mountainous example of wobbly malevolence. The people all interact in a beautiful nowhere island where time passes as it passes and nature, love and loss rule all. Recommended for anyone who wants to experience literature at its best.
mckait on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a story filled with the magic of full rich characters,most of them strong and loving women. Much of it takes placeon Willow Island, a barrier island off the shores of Georgia andSouth Carolina. The residents of Willow Island live a life similarto that which their ancestors lived a hundred years before. While theydid have modern conveniences, they certainly didn't depend on them for happiness. Love, family and tradition ruled their day. Mama day, Abigail, Cocoa, Ruby and more. They all have their own story, and they tell it, or have it told in rich mellow voices. Idon't know how anyone can read this book and not love Mama Day and Abigail. And they have within them a magic all their own. A knowing that has been lostto most over the generations. I have to believe that they are based on women known by the author, otherwise how did she make them so real? Andif they are not, all the more kudos to their creator. Cocoa, a younger woman from their family spends most of her time in NewYork City, where she lives, works and falls in love. She too, is quitea force, but often more negative then she should be. We find out in the story how life changes her.
lewispike on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a story in parts - Mama Day strides across most of it like a colossus. I want to call her the matriarch, but she's not a mother. Perhaps the high priestess is a better description.Cocoa, her grand-niece, and George, Cocoa's husband who ultimately sacrifices himself to save Cocoa's life because he can't understand the world he is in.And that's the other part of this story. Mama Day lives in a world that we might call magical, although she denies she "does that Hoodoo nonsense." Cocoa crosses that world to the everyday world of job hunting, marriage, dinner parties and the like. George is firmly based in the mundane - he's an engineer who never has the grand idea, but takes the grand ideas of others and turns them into hard reality.The clash of these ideas and worlds makes for a compelling, fascinating book. Unusually to my mind, George is the character that I strongly suspect most of us will relate to - he's the everyman that relates to this wild, old, confusing world in which his wife grew up.
Antheras on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my favourite novels and the book that helped me discover the work of Gloria Naylor. The magical realism reminds one of the works of Isabel Allende. For fans of southern American literature, this is a must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
victorian86 More than 1 year ago
I think Naylor is one of America's most under-rated writers. This story captures a culture unknown to most of us but the story draws us in and involves us almost immediately. It has a love story, a coming of age story, magic realism, and family and community struggles. It asks you to think about what is important, even as you laugh out loud at the silly things we do. I frequently share this book with reading groups and it is always a favorite.
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of-course More than 1 year ago
I just loved this book.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book for a women's fiction class and I loved it. The relationship between George and Cocoa and the mystical forces kept me interested the whole way through the novel because i wanted to know what was going to happen next. There are some very wierd occurences, but they make the book more interesting....and they kept me thinking about what happened long after I had finished reading it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read a lot of books by the current crop of black authors but nothing has touched me and made me fall totally in love with a book like Mama Day. This book was brilliant and I couldn't put it down until it was over. A good book is one of those books that you're actually sad when it's over. That was Mama Day for me. I have not read a book that comes close to it yet and I probably never will. If you have to read this book for school or a book club, I hope you enjoy it. If you want a book that is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, this book is a MUST READ!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is great. It took a while to read, but it is good, and I would recommend that anyone to read it.