Gayl Jones Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although not as popular as some of her contemporaries such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Gloria Naylor, Gayl Jones is a significant African American author whose works brilliantly experiment with the psychology of language while addressing powerful issues of race, class, and gender. The daughter of Lucille (Wilson) and Franklin Jones, a cook, she grew up with the love of language instilled in her early by her mother and grandmother. Her mother, who had also begun writing at a young age, wrote stories to entertain her children, and her grandmother wrote plays for church performances. Jones heard these stories read aloud before she herself could read, and she became a natural student of dialect. Jones attended public schools in Lexington, which were segregated until she reached tenth grade. She began writing at the age of seven or eight. Apart from the encouragement of her fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hodges, school offered her little. Instead, Jones gained her education from a rich oral tradition of family history and stories.

In 1971 Jones earned her B.A. in English from Connecticut College, where she also received prizes for her poetry. She earned her M.A. (1973) and her D.A. (1975) in creative writing from Brown University, where she studied with Michael S. Harper and William Meredith. In 1973 her play Chile Woman won the award for best original production at the New England Regional American College Theatre Festival. In 1975, while attending Brown, she published her first novel, Corregidora.

In her works Jones incorporates black speech as an aesthetic device. She uses its rhythms and structure to develop individual characters and to enhance conflicts within the plots. In her book-length critical work Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition in African American Literature Jones argues that black authors cannot develop a genuine literary identity until they set aside dominant white models and adopt the rich forms of their own oral and musical traditions. Her own writing has a lyric quality; she has called her poem “Deep Song” (1979) a “blues poem” and her novel Corregidora a “blues novel.” Although she has also written poetry and drama, she is best known for fiction.

Jones’s novels and stories address the human capacity for redemption and regeneration. Corregidora is a chilling exploration of a black woman’s family history. Consumed with hatred, despite being physically and psychologically abused by her husband, Mutt,...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Poet, novelist, essayist, short-story writer, and teacher, Gayl Jones is best known for the intensity and probing nature of her gothic tales, which mix the conventions of the gothic with radically unconventional worlds of madness, sexuality, and violence. Jones began writing seriously at age seven under the encouraging and guiding influence of her grandmother, her mother, and her high school Spanish teacher, Anna Dodd. Later, her mentors would be Michael S. Harper and William Meredith at Brown University, where she earned two degrees in creative writing. She published her first and best-known novel, Corregidora, while still at Brown.

No stranger to the art of writing and storytelling, Jones grew up in a household of female creative writers: Her grandmother wrote plays for church production. Jones’s mother, Lucille, started writing in fifth grade and read stories she had written to Jones and her brother. It is therefore not surprising that stories, storytelling, and family history are the source of most of the material for her fiction.

In addition to her distinction as teller of intense stories about insanity and the psychological effects of violence on black women, another characteristic of Jones’s art is her consistent use of the first person for her protagonists. Claiming neither “political compulsions nor moral compulsions,” Jones is first and foremost interested in the “psychology of characters” and therefore seeks to examine their “puzzles,” as she states, by simply letting her characters “tell their stories.” Her interest in the character as storyteller permits her to evoke oral history and engage the African American tradition of storytelling, which she accomplishes in her novels Corregidora and Eva’s Man.

Corregidora, a historical novel, is what Jones calls a blues narrative. The novel examines the psychological effects of slavery and sexual abuse on three generations of women, particularly Ursa, a professional blues singer. Eva’s Man, Jones’s more provocative and controversial second novel, explores the psychological effects of violence. Eva Medina Canada, the protagonist-narrator, tells in confusing but gripping detail the story of her violent reaction to her victimization in a male-dominated society. Jones continues her thematic concerns with White Rat, a volume of twelve short stories, and Song of Anninho, a long narrative poem. In addition to her fiction and essay writing, Jones teaches full-time, writes poetry, and conducts research.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ashraf, H. A. “‘Relate Sexual to Historical.’” African American Review 34, no. 2 (2000): 273-297. Analyzes the roles of race, resistence, and desire in Corregidora.

Barksdale, Richard K. “Castration Symbolism in Recent Black American Fiction.” College Language Association Journal 29, no. 4 (1986): 400-413. Considers Eva’s Man an example of fiction depicting men whose sexual insensitivity and violence merit their castration.

Bell, Bernard. “The Liberating Literary and African American Vernacular Voices of Gayl Jones.” Comparative Literature Studies 36, no. 3 (1999): 247-258. Reviews The Healing and Liberating Voices, focusing on contrasting registers of Jones’s narrative voice.

Coser, Stelamaris. Bridging the Americas: The Literature of Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, and Gayl Jones. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995. Analysis focusing on the authors’ representations of women, sex roles, and African Americans.

Robinson, Sally. Engendering the Subject: Gender and Self-Representation in Contemporary Women’s Fiction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. Jones is discussed along with Angela Carter and Doris Lessing in a study of feminist psychology in literature. One of the few studies that compares Jones with non-African American contemporaries.

Wilcox, Janelle. “Resistant Silence, Resistant Subject: (Re)Reading Gayl Jones’s Eva’s Man.” Genders 23 (1996): 72-96. Discusses the link between knowledge and power in discourse in Jones’s novel.

Yukins, Elizabeth. “Bastard Daughters and the Possession of History in Corregidora and Paradise.” Signs 28, no. 1 (2002): 221-247. Uses the novels by Jones and Toni Morrison as a springboard for discussing the “ownership” of traumatic memories and their transmissibility.