Gloria Naylor

Thanks to an innovative multi-year institutional collaboration between Sacred Heart University and Lehigh, researchers, teachers, students and Gloria Naylor fans all over the world can engage with her life and works.

Gloria Naylor Archive Brought to Life

An interdisciplinary, multi-institutional collaboration celebrates the renowned late-20th-century writer.

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

Gloria Naylor, the renowned late-20th-century writer whose extensive work chronicles the experiences of Black women in America, maintained a collection of her published and unpublished writing, as well as correspondence with both contemporary writers and fans. In 2009, Naylor donated all these documents to Sacred Heart University, drawing Naylor scholars to the university’s Fairfield, Conn., campus. 

Today, thanks to an innovative multi-year institutional collaboration between Sacred Heart and Lehigh, researchers, teachers, students and fans the world over can engage with Naylor’s life and works. 

Suzanne Edwards, associate professor of English, and Mary Foltz, associate professor of English, worked with Sacred Heart’s Michelle Loris, professor and associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Gavin Ferriby, university librarian, to temporarily relocate the 50-plus boxes of materials in the Gloria Naylor Archive to Lehigh for processing in 2019. Over the following two years, an interdisciplinary team of faculty, staff and graduate researchers processed and digitized the materials to make them accessible to all in a variety of ways. 

Professors and a research assistant examine documents

From left, Professors Mary Foltz and Suzanne Edwards examine archival documents with Sam Sorensen, a research assistant on the project.

In addition to courses, workshops and several journal publications, team members produced several public-facing resources: a finding aid for Naylor scholars, a blog, and a website with abundant information for those interested in or teaching about Naylor and her works. 

The team also ensured that engagement with the archive would not be limited to an exploration of documents. An April 2021 virtual event with Black Women Radicals, a public-facing platform that profiles the lives and work of Black women radicals, featured a panel discussion about the archive. Partnering with Mark Wonsidler, curator of exhibitions and collections for the Lehigh University Art Galleries (LUAG), the team curated “Gloria Naylor: Other Places,” a physical and digital exhibition that ran from Sept. 1, 2021, through May 27, 2022. 

The Gloria Naylor in the Archives Symposium, held virtually and on Lehigh’s campus in November 2021, was a low-cost and accessible event that welcomed Naylor scholars from across the United States. The three-day event featured presentations, panel and roundtable discussions, and a keynote lecture by Maxine Lavon Montgomery of Florida State University. The program also included theatrical readings of Naylor’s “Candy” and “M’Dear”, performed by Lehigh students; produced by 

Melpomene Katakalos, associate professor of theatre; and directed by Kashi Johnson, chair and professor of theatre.

This work was funded by a $100,000 Accelerator Grant from Lehigh. A $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities supports the creation of an edited volume based on Naylor’s archives, edited by Edwards, Foltz and Maxine Lavon Montgomery, as well as the research for a second volume.

The Gloria Naylor Archive will remain physically at Lehigh until it returns to Sacred Heart in 2023, and the digital archive can be found at go.lehigh.edu/naylorarchive.

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

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