Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Birthday: Gayl Jones

Today is the 56th birthday of Gayl Jones, a novelist, poet, and essay writer so underrated that there's more information on the web about her terrible and operatic personal history than there seems to be on her books or her still-stinging critiques of American and African-American culture. Her first two novels, Corregidora and Eva's Man blaze with so much intelligent fury and blistering prose that they fall out of your hands like hot coals when you're finished. Written while Jones was still in her mid-20s, and with Toni Morrison as her editor, they made Jones the troubling toast of African-American letters for a few years there before personal fiascos and the escalating popularity of peers like Morrison and Alice Walker eclipsed her. Decades later, she published a third novel, The Healing, which is a kind of personal obsession for me—a strange, mysterious, gangly book, with moments as dark as its predecessors but new strains of humor and grace. I think it'd make a great movie, and that's why I'm trying to adapt it into a functioning screenplay...which will probably never get anywhere, but I'm serious about trying, while Alfre and Angela are still young enough. (Actually, we've got a good healthy while before I'd have to write it for Kimberly Elise, but the clock does tick and tock, doesn't it.)

Anyway, she's a brave and bold and brilliant writer—I don't mean to give short shrift to her volumes of poetry, Song for Anninho and Xarque, though her last novel Mosquito is probably for Gayl-lovers only. If she's a new name to you, start with Corregidora, and I dare you to forget that book. And in the spirit of both her birthday and Thanksgiving, I hope she's well and that there's more work to come. It's almost impossible to learn anything her condition these days, but for her fans, the well-wishes keep coming, and the dream is still alive.



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