A Collaborative Celebration of Naylor
Digitizing the archive is the major goal of the project, but the celebration of Naylor’s work does not stop there. In addition to a Humanities Seminar, a graduate seminar in the English department, other potential courses and cross-disciplinary research, the team plans public-facing events and activities, such as theatrical stagings of Naylor’s correspondence, journal entries or plays.
“Gloria Naylor was a gifted storyteller who wrote about the beauty and complexity of black women lives—stories that would otherwise go unheard,” says Kashi Johnson, professor of theatre. “The archive is an exciting opportunity to showcase Gloria Naylor’s multifaceted work, and will perfectly illustrate the myriad of reasons why her work is counted among the catalog of exceptional black women writers, poets and playwrights like Lorraine Hansberry, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Ntozake Shange.”
An MFA student at Sacred Heart will produce a film using material from the archive, and the team is planning an exhibition at Lehigh University Art Galleries (LUAG) that will not only feature primary sources from the Naylor archive, but will also create opportunities for community engagement. “By inviting a spectrum of participants to respond to Naylor's work in the exhibition, as well as through dynamic and participatory education programs, we will extend the project's impact and underscore how a range of diverse perspectives contribute to a shared process of meaning-making,” says William Crow, director of LUAG.
The team is also planning a 2021 symposium that will introduce various constituencies to the archive.
“We have such incredible people working on this project, all of whom have their own frames and their own relationships to their research,” says Edwards.
Planned research projects include Mary Foltz’s study of Naylor’s bibliographies, which, she says, “tell us the sources that she found to be most important during the process of writing her novels. A focus on her bibliographies will shift scholarly conversations that already are centered on her practice of engaging with canonical literary texts.”
The collaboration with Sacred Heart, Edwards says, is also a key element to the project. “For the most part, institutions have thought about archives in a custodial way: They don’t want to invest time and financial resources when they don’t own the materials. But the approach we’re taking is that owning the materials is less important than making the materials accessible to everyone. And we’re fortunate that Sacred Heart, which does own the materials, has been willing to partner with us.”
Adds Michelle Loris, professor and associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at Sacred Heart: “Sacred Heart University is delighted that Lehigh will be digitizing Gloria Naylor’s archive and that Sacred Heart and Lehigh are collaborating on a variety of potential projects to making this rich archive of materials available to a large community of teachers, scholars and students. I know that Gloria Naylor wanted her work to be shared widely and so I know she would be extremely pleased with this project.”
The main focus, however, is a celebration of Naylor herself, exposing more readers and researchers to a significant collection of her writings—and keeping her vibrant storytelling in the public imagination for years to come.
“To my mind, the Naylor archival project will change the next decade of Naylor scholarship,” says Foltz. “With the incomplete manuscript that focuses on Sapphira Wade [a character referenced in early work]; letters to prominent writers, intellectuals and readers; typed bibliographies of works referenced during her writing process; and many other provocative remnants from her life, scholars have fodder for years and years of research on this important author. By making the archive accessible for scholars and fans alike, we will spark new directions for Naylor criticism that will bring her back into the spotlight, a position that she so richly deserves.”
Foltz, who currently serves as a reviewer for The Year's Work in English Studies, says she has found that women writers receive less critical attention than male writers. She and the team hope to remedy that with the Naylor archive project.
“Because scholarship tends to accrue around figures that already receive quite a bit of attention, it is crucial for feminist literary critics to produce not just our own scholarly works on women writers, but to create networks of scholars that amplify the import of women writers that we know to be important figures in U.S. literary history,” Foltz says. “We hope to create this network of scholars, librarians, archivists, students and fans by creating spaces for many to engage with Naylor's papers and to come face to face with her brilliant investigations of the twentieth-century U.S. with a focus on black communities.”