Gayl Jones Jones was born in Lexington, Kentucky. Her father was a restaurant cook and her mother, who wished to be a writer, was a housewife.
Gayl grew up in a storytelling family, her grandmother wrote plays for her church, and her mother made up stories to entertain the children and other family members. Although described as painfully shy, many of Jones's elementary school instructors recognized her writing skills and encouraged her talent to grow.
Jones is a graduate of Connecticut College, where she received her BA 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 an MA and a Doctor of Arts.
Jones's 1998 novel The Healing was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Jones was voted one of AALBC.com's 50 Favorite Authors of the 20th Century.
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