The Best American Novelist Whose Name You May Not Know
March 2, 2021 8:09 AM   Subscribe

When her first novels were published, in the mid-1970s, Gayl Jones’s talent was hailed by writers from James Baldwin to John Updike. Then she disappeared. Jones’s early novels were shepherded by Toni Morrison, then an editor at Random House, who’d dedicated herself to publishing Black writers, especially women. To put things in perspective, at the time Corregidora came out, Morrison had only recently published her first works of fiction, The Bluest Eye and Sula. She had yet to hit her stride as a writer, while Jones burst forth in her early 20s all but fully formed and requiring little editing. Jones needed a champion, however, someone who could understand and appreciate the sophistication of her approach to subject matter as well as language. “No novel about any black woman could ever be the same after this,” Morrison declared after reading the manuscript of Corregidora.

- Calvin Baker for The Atlantic magazine, on the first Jones' novel to be launched in decades, Palmares, set in 17th-century colonial Brazil on Portuguese plantations and in the last fugitive slave settlement.
posted by plant or animal (7 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you so much for posting this ... I'm not sure I would have come across it otherwise, and I'd never heard of Gayl Jones.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:57 AM on March 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

For anyone who has read Jones, where would you recommend commend I start?
posted by saladin at 11:40 AM on March 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Wow, what a write up! I was sort of melancholy starting it, thinking it would be about an author who is just getting her due after her death.

I am interested in reading her work but have a little trepidation. Usually something described as pushing the bounds of what a novel can be means I am not going to get it.
posted by Emmy Rae at 3:21 PM on March 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

(Years ago a dancer mid-performance said, calmly, "You know, this is modern dance, so there’s nothing you have to get." I don’t get that, either, but have found it comforting since then.)
posted by clew at 3:30 PM on March 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

I like that, clew. Although even if I don't "get" dance I usually end up appreciating the experience. A novel that confuses me tends to just go on as I get increasingly frustrated and feel increasingly stupid. Regardless I'm sure I can risk it and live with the consequences.
posted by Emmy Rae at 3:41 PM on March 2, 2021

Thanks for sharing this - I just found Corregidora on my library app, so I have my next read queued up - though I'm another "experimental"-averse reader, so I totally share the trepidation.
posted by Mchelly at 4:21 PM on March 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Corregidora is a master work, truly. That said, I can't bear to reread parts of it. I would caution that sexual violence and the terror of slavery are major themes, for anyone who takes extra care around those topics.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:37 PM on March 2, 2021 [7 favorites]

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