Contemporary Black American Fiction Writers

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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Gayl Jones
b. 1949

GAYL JONES was born on November 23, 1949, the daughter of Franklin and Lucile (Wilson) Jones. She grew up in a segregated neighborhood in Lexington, Kentucky, where she was influenced by extant oral traditions— mostly in the form of street chatter and storytelling (both her mother and grandmother wrote stories and plays, sometimes solely for Gayl's amusement). Jones began writing at an early age, and even her early stories are full of the colloquial language of her neighborhood. She received a B.A. in English from Connecticut College in 1971; she then received an M.A. ( 1973) and D.A. ( 1975) in creative writing from Brown University. In 1975 she joined the faculty of the University of Michigan, attaining the rank of professor of English by the time she left in 1983.

Jones's first book was a play, Chile Woman, produced at Brown in 1973 and published in 1974. She then wrote two novels in quick succession— Corregidora ( 1975) and Eva's Man ( 1976)—followed by a collection of short stories, White Rat ( 1977). These fictions are distinguished for their uncompromising subject matter and their faithful and lyrical replication of the language of the street and the ghetto. Corregidora examines a brutal world of sexual violence and incest caused, primarily, by the slave system. In Eva's Man the sexual violence becomes more explicit, culminating in an act of dismemberment that lands Eva in prison. The novel, an explicit attack on male dominance, was not as well received as its predecessor. White Rat contains stories written and published between 1970 and 1977. Here the focus shifts to an intense examination of character, usually from within (most of the stories are written in the first person), occasionally with Gothic effects reminiscent of Poe or Kafka. This volume too received only mixed reviews, some critics complaining of its unrelenting grimness.

In recent years Jones has turned to poetry, producing three volumes, Song for Anninho ( 1981), The Hermit-Woman ( 1983), and Xarque and Other Poems ( 1985). These works reveal many of the same concerns as her fiction. Song for Anninho is a long narrative poem with an historical setting in seventeenth‐

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