Gayl Jones was Voted the #49 Favorite Author of the 20th Century
Gayl Jones was born on November 23, 1949, in Lexington, Kentucky. Her father Franklin Jones worked as a cook, and her mother Lucille Jones was a homemaker, storyteller, and writer. Jones’ love for writing fiction stories developed, and by the tender age of seven, she was writing her own. When it was time to attend high school, Jones mother refused to enroll her into a predominantly black high school instead Jones attended Henry Clay High, which had a predominantly white student body and was known for its academic excellence. Jones was very shy, but she stood out because of her writing ability. One of her teachers Anna Dodd took a liking to Jones, she lent her many books and enjoyed telling her stories of her travels just like Jones mother and grandmother did. When the time came for her to graduate high school Dodd helped to make the necessary arrangement for Jones to receive a Scholarship to Connecticut College.
At this small elite school for women, she was captivated by African American literature. Jones graduated with honors and was accepted into the writing program at Brown University in 1971. Her peers praised her on her writing talent. One of Gayl’s classmates, you ultimately became a close friend recalled, “Now and then Gayl would read what she was writing which would become her novel’s Corregidora and Eva’s Man. I realized that Jones’ style of writing had to have been influenced by the stories her mother and grandmother told her because Jones life was the total opposite of her writing.”
In 1975 Jones lectured in English as a visitor at the University of Michigan and later hired as an assistant professor. At that time Jones meets Robert Higgins who she would marry and would leave a lasting impression on her life after his death through suicide. In the earlier part of the 1980s, Jones and her husband fled to Europe to escape the growing controversy that surrounded him and changed his name to Bob Jones. According to an article in The New York Times, “A Chronicle of a Tragedy Foretold” (1998) by Peter Manso he writes, during a parade held for Gay rights in Michigan Higgins loudly denounced gays, proclaim to be God and said that “AIDS was a form of punishment.” A woman attending the parade assaulted him, but charges were not filed against her by the police officers. Filled with anger, hatred and the feeling of being powerless Higgins return with a shotgun but was arrested for criminal assault. Due to Higgins being absent at the courts, he was found guilty and could serve four years in jail. An arrest warrant was issued. In 1989 just before the death of Jones mother, they both return and so did the controversy they tried to escape. Jones mother was diagnosed with throat cancer, and it was also believed she was being manipulated by Higgins and other family members but especially Higgins.
Higgins constantly harassed government officials through mail about racism and bomb threats. Eventually, Higgins identity was known. While officials tried to arrest him, Higgins and Jones swore they would kill themselves. While officers were able to prevent Jones from committing suicide, they were not successful in capturing Higgins alive. He committed suicide by thrusting a knife into his throat. The tragic end of her husband’s life drew a lot of unwanted attention, she was placed on suicide watch. To this day Jones remains withdrawn, secluded, and her faith in Higgins never wavered not even after his suicide.
In 1971, Jones graduated from Connecticut College with a Bachelor’s degree in English. In 1973 she also obtained a Master’s of Arts Degree from Brown University and in 1975 a Doctor of Arts Degree where she studied under the influential poet Michael Harper who has remained a long time friend and mentor.
In 1975 Jones published her first novel Corregidora. After Toni Morrison read the novel, she told The New York Times Magazine in a 2015 interview that, “… no novel about any black woman could ever be the same after this.” Jones, next novel was Eva’s Man (1976), followed by The Healing (1998), Mosquito (1999), White Rat (1977), the short story “Almeyda” (1977). In year 1975 Jones wrote a play Chile Woman. Jones also published books of poetry including, Song of Anninho (1981), The Hermit-Woman 1983), and Xarque (1985).
In 1998 Jones was a finalist for a the National Book Award, which was in recognition for her outstanding literary work for her novel The Healing. Jones was influenced by many, but Alice Walker, Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce were found to be at the top of her list. Her novels tell a painful truth of the past, present and hopefully not the future. —written by Delia Mercado, AALBC Intern
Jones was voted one of AALBC.com’s 50 Favorite Authors of the 20th Century.