Gayl Jones

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Gayl Jones
Born November 23, 1949 (1949-11-23) (age 66)[1]
Lexington, Kentucky
Occupation novelist, poet, playwright, professor, and literary critic
Alma mater Connecticut College
Brown University
Genre African American literature
Notable works Corregidora, Eva's Man, The Healing

Gayl Jones (born November 23, 1949)[1] is an African-American writer from Lexington, Kentucky.[2] Her most famous works are Corregidora, Eva's Man, and The Healing.

Early life[edit]

Jones is a 1971 graduate of Connecticut College,[1] where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English. While attending the college she also earned the Frances Steloff Award for Fiction. She then began a graduate program in creative writing at Brown University, studying under poet Michael Harper and earning a Master of Arts in 1973 and a Doctor of Arts in 1975.[3]


Harper introduced Jones's work to Toni Morrison.[1] Morrison was an editor at Random House at the time and was so impressed after reading Jones's manuscript once wrote, "that no novel about any black woman could ever be the same after this".[4] In 1975, Jones published her first novel Corregidora at the age of 26.[1][5][6] That same year she was a visiting lecturer at the University of Michigan, which hired her the following year as an assistant professor.[1] She left her faculty position in 1983 and moved to Europe, where she wrote and published Die Vogelfaengerin (The Birdwatcher) in Germany and a poetry collection, Xarque and Other Poems.[3] Jones's 1998 novel The Healing was a finalist for the National Book Award, although the media attention surrounding her novel's release focused more on the controversy in her personal life than on the work itself.[7] Her papers are currently housed at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. Jones currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where she continues to write.

Jones has described herself as an improvisor, and her work bears out that statement: like a jazz or blues musician, Jones plays upon a specific set of themes, varying them and exploring their possible permutations. Though her fiction has been called "Gothic" in its exploration of madness, violence, and sexuality, musical metaphors might make for a more apt categorization.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Jones was born on November 23, 1949 to Franklin and Lucille Jones. She grew up in Speigle Heights, a neighborhood of Lexington, Kentucky, in a house with no indoor toilet. Her father was a restaurant cook and her mother, who wished to be a writer, stayed at home.[9] Young Gayl grew up in a storytelling family: Her grandmother wrote plays for her church, and her mother constantly made up stories to entertain the children and other family members. As Gayl recalls, "I began to write when I was seven, because I saw my mother writing, and because she would read stories to my brother and me, stories that she had written".[10] Although described as painfully shy, many of Jones's elementary school instructors recognized her writing skills and encouraged her talent to grow[11]

While at the University of Michigan, Jones met a politically active student, Robert Higgins, who would eventually become her husband.[7] At a gay rights parade in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the early 1980s, Higgins claimed to be God and that AIDS was a form of punishment. After being punched by a woman at the parade, he returned with a shotgun and was arrested with a charge that carried four years in jail. Instead of appearing in court to face charges, Jones and Higgins fled the United States to Europe, and Jones resigned from the University of Michigan with a note addressed to President Ronald Reagan that read: "I reject your lying racist [expletive], and I call upon God. Do what you want. God is with Bob and I'm with him." [12] Some have debated the authorship of the note. In 1988, Jones and Higgins returned to the United States, but kept their identities hidden.[9] In the late 1990s, Jones's mother was diagnosed with throat cancer, and in 1997, Higgins objected to a medical procedure for his mother-in-law, but was banned from the hospital room after a psychological evaluation on Jones's mother found she was "inappropriately manipulated by family--especially son-in-law." [9] Jones and Higgins wrote up a document about the incident called "Kidnapped/Held Incommunicado," which was sent to the national press, and on March 3, 1997, was forwarded to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. On March 20, Jones's mother died, igniting Higgins to start a campaign against the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center, which had been the defendant in several civil rights cases in the recent past.[13] During this time, Jones's novel, The Healing, was in the process of being released. Higgins began to bombard the Lexington police, calling them and writing them multiple times a day.[12] A letter that arrived to the police station on February 20, 1998 indicated a bomb threat, and police figured out that Higgins, who at the time was using the alias Bob Jones, was previously wanted for arrest. After a standoff with police at their residence, Higgins committed suicide and Jones was put on suicide watch. Since then, Jones only talks to family and Harper and has refused several requests for interviews.[9]

Selected bibliography[edit]


  • Corregidora (novel) (1975)
  • Eva's Man (novel) (1976)
  • White Rat (short stories) (1977)
  • The Healing (novel) (1998)
  • Mosquito (novel) (1999)

Poetry collections[edit]

  • Song for Anninho (1981)
  • The Hermit-Woman (1983)
  • Xarque and Other Poems (1985)

Other works[edit]

  • Chile Woman (play) (1974)
  • Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition in African American Literature (criticism) (1991)


Jones's first novel, Corregidora (1975), anticipated the wave of novels exploring the connections between slavery and the African American present. Ursa Corregidora, the novel's protagonist, is the great-grandchild of the Portuguese Brazilian slaveholder Simon Corregidora, who also raped her grandmother. Both Ursa's mother and grandmother make it their lives' purpose to keep alive the history of their abuse and torture, and by extension that of African slaves in the New World. But their obsession with the past burdens Ursa, who struggles, as a singer, to find her own purpose in life. Even as she attempts to do so, she herself is trapped in abusive relationships.

The rape and incest that occurs between Great Gram, Gram and Simon can be read as complicating the notions of love and hate. Similarly, Ursa's relationship with her husband Mutt also straddles the line between the two sentiments. These complex relationships give credence to the tension that sexual violence creates and efforts to differentiate pain from pleasure.

Sparse in language, relying on terse dialogue and haunting interior monologues, the novel stands in the naturalist tradition as it shows individuals fighting with historical forces beyond their control. However, the end of the novel justifies its status as a "blues" narrative exploring both the pain and the beauty of relationships by implying that psychological struggle and an unsparing confrontation of the past may lead to recovery.[8]

Eva's Man[edit]

Eva's Man (1976), Jones's second novel, expands on the pain between African American women and men, but it does so with an even greater sense of hopelessness. Like Corregidora, Eva's Man relies on minimalist dialogue and on interior monologues, but the latter play an even more important role in Jones' second novel, letting the reader see Eva Medina Canada's past and her descent into mental illness, indicated through repetition of key scenes with variations, implying that Eva's memory disintegrates. The reader encounters Eva in a prison for the criminally insane at the beginning of the story, to which she has been committed for poisoning and castrating her lover. Her flashbacks reveal a life of relentless sexual objectification by men, starting with Freddy, a neighborhood boy who wants to play doctor, to Tyrone, her mother's lover who molests her, to her cousin, who propositions her. The men she encounters regard her as sexual property and react with violence if she rejects their approaches. Davis, the lover she kills, epitomizes this tendency by imprisoning her in a room to which he only comes to sleep with her. By killing him, she rebels against male tyranny, but her descent into insanity indicates that she is unable to construct a new role for herself.[8]

White Rat[edit]

The stories in Jones' short story collection White Rat (1977), written between 1970 and 1977, deal largely with the same themes as her novels-communication or the lack of it, insanity, and difficult relationships. Song for Anninho (1981), a long narrative poem, covers new ground. Situated in 17th-century Brazil, the poem tells the story of Almeyda, the narrator, and her husband Anninho, who are residents of Palmares, a historical settlement by fugitive slaves, when it is overrun by Portuguese soldiers, separating husband and wife. Though Almeyda can only find her husband through memory and through art once they are separated, the poem focuses on desire as a positive theme, and it shows the possibility of love.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Manso, Peter (July 19, 1998). "Chronicle of a Tragedy Foretold". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ "Gayl Jones". Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Gale Contemporary Black Biography: Gayl Jones". 
  4. ^ Ghansah, Rachel (April 12, 2015). "What Toni Morrison Saw". The New York Times (New York Times). Lexis Nexis Academic. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  5. ^ Plummer, William (March 16, 1998). "Beyond Healing". People. 
  6. ^ "Voices from the Gaps". Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "Voices from the Gaps". Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d Byerman, K., "Black Vortex: The Gothic Structure of Eva's Man," The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 7 (1980): 93–101
  9. ^ a b c d Manso, Peter (July 19, 1998). "Chronicle of a Tragedy Foretold". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ Jones, Gayl (Amanda). (2000). In African-American Writers: A Dictionary. ISBN 978-0874369595
  11. ^ Grazier, Julie; Farrell, Misty (2001). "Gayl Jones". Voices From the Gaps, University of Minnesota: 242. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  12. ^ a b "Gayl Jones Husband - Noted writer resurfaces in a tragedy Author: Gayl Jones, once heralded by Maya Angelou, turns up in a bloody confrontation in Kentucky. - tribunedigital-baltimoresun". tribunedigital-baltimoresun. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  13. ^ "Gayl Jones Husband - Noted writer resurfaces in a tragedy Author: Gayl Jones, once heralded by Maya Angelou, turns up in a bloody confrontation in Kentucky. - tribunedigital-baltimoresun". tribunedigital-baltimoresun. Retrieved 21 October 2015.