“Corregidora”: Gayl Jones comes out of the woodwork

“Corregidora”, by Gayl Jones, translated from English (United States) by Madeleine Nasalik, Dalva, 256 p., €21, digital €14.

Almost fifty years after its publication in the United States, Corregidora, by Gayl Jones, advances in French bookstores escorted by the dithyrambs of the greatest. “No one, ever again, will write the same way about black women after this novel” (Toni Morrison); Corregidora is the most brutally honest portrayal of what has animated, and still animates, the souls of black men and women.” (James Baldwin); “Gayl Jones has created a tale as American as Mount Rushmore and as murky as the swamps of Florida” (Maya Angelou); “Gayl Jones is a literary movement on its own” (Richard Ford). In France, only one of his novels, Murderer, was published in 1977 by Editions des femmes. How can such a discrepancy be explained between the importance accorded to him by his most eminent colleagues and sisters – as well as the American universities where his work is studied – and the decades it took to see translated his first novel, Histoire, located in the end of the 1940s, of a singer from Kentucky, descendant of a line of female slaves in Brazil, haunted by their stories?

Juliette Ponce had not heard of it until the fall of 2019. Then living in London, and editor of foreign literature for Buchet-Chastel, she noticed in bookstores the orange cover capping the reissue of Corregidora offered by Virago Modern Classics. A year later, back in France, she was offered by the Bourgois group (Christian Bourgois, En exergue, Matin calme, Globe) to set up her house. Thus was born Dalva, dedicated to publishing only women writers. “Very quickly, it seemed essential to me to offer species of unknown classics in this catalog. » The editor thinks about Corregidora, obtains the text, and knows, by reading it, a “total shock” in front of “its power and its roughness”. A quick search on the Internet makes him discover the fate of the author.

Toni Morrison flabbergasted

Born in Lexington (Kentucky) in 1949, into a modest family with a passion for storytelling – her grandmother wrote plays for the parish, her mother, short stories for her children –, Gayl Jones studied writing creative at Brown University (Rhode Island) when one of her professors introduced her to Toni Morrison (1931-2019). The future Nobel Prize winner only published one novel, The Bluest Eye (Robert Laffont, 1971) and works as an editor at Random House. When Gayl Jones makes him read the manuscript of Corregidora, her first novel, Morrison is flabbergasted: “I was so deeply impressed, will she tell later, that I didn’t have time to be jealous that she was only 24, that she knew so much and knew it so well. She had written a story that said the unspeakable. » Corregidora appeared in 1975, laden with acclaim.

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“Corregidora”: Gayl Jones comes out of the woodwork