Mary Foltz (Lehigh University)
Suzanne Edwards (Lehigh University)
From her award-winning The Women of Brewster Place (1982) to her lesser known fictionalized memoir 1996 (2005), Gloria Naylor’s literary production spanned more than two decades. In her nuanced portrayals of the survival strategies through which Black women build and sustain community and her attentiveness to racism, sexism, homophobia, and capitalism as forms of structural violence, Gloria Naylor has long been recognized as one of the most important U.S. writers of the late 20th century. Especially in the 1980s and 1990s, edited collections, articles, and monographs situated her work as central to understanding Black feminist aesthetic innovation, intervention into the dominant U.S. literary canon, and engagement with Black writers from earlier periods in U.S. history. Despite Naylor’s initial celebrated status, however, critical attention to her literary career has been comparatively sparse in the 21st century. Only one special issue of the journal Callaloo (2000) and one critical monograph, Maxine Lavon Montgomery’s The Fiction of Gloria Naylor: Houses and Spaces of Resistance (2010), have taken a holistic approach to her works. Yet, Naylor’s writing remains as urgent as it was in the 1980s and 1990s, speaking to such topics as the racial politics of national imaginaries, transnational Black communities, neoliberal ideology, labor practices, urban development, state surveillance, and incarceration.
This an ideal time for a panel focused on new approaches to Gloria Naylor for two reasons. First, her works speak powerfully to issues of contemporary political and theoretical concern, and second, Naylor’s collected papers—donated to Sacred Heart University in 2009 and currently being digitized through a partnership with Lehigh University—give scholars a fresh perspective on her literary career. Naylor’s archive includes: an unpublished portion of a novel focused on the character Sapphira Wade from Mama Day (1988), plays, screenplays, private correspondence, journal entries, and copious research materials. This panel invites paper proposals that showcase new directions in Naylor studies either by reevaluating the import of her novels for 21st-century readers or drawing upon archival material to open up uncharted avenues for criticism of her work.