Like a Faith Ringgold quilt, Gloria Naylor's seven stories in The Women of Brewster Place retell stories that are woven into one another. The stories are centered on the female residents of a rundown urban tenement building, whose lives often intersect with each other in unforeseen ways.
The men's stories take a back seat to the women's stories, as Naylor focuses on alienation and how the different characters deal with it. The women's stories explore themes of racism, sexism and economic hardships.
Mattie Michael's son, Basil, grows up to be a spoiled and irresponsible young man because of her overbearing parenting. When he is arrested for killing someone in a bar fight, she puts up her house as collateral and Basil flees town before the trial. Mattie loses her home, and she moves to the rundown Brewster Place neighborhood with Ciel's infant daughter.
Kiswana Browne, a college dropout, believes she can bring real social change to the Brewster Place community with her unwavering sense of rightness. Mrs. Browne, a tall copper-skinned mother, urges Kiswana to put her education to use rather than criticize the system from the outside. She cautions that Kiswana will not effect a revolution by acting alone, as the people of Brewster Place need to unite to create a collective voice. A few weeks later, Lorraine and Theresa, two lesbians who are friends of Kiswana, move into the apartment complex. The other residents treat them with suspicion and resentment. After being raped by C.C. Baker, a local drug dealer, Lorraine mistakenly attacks Ben with a brick and bludgeons him to death.