A review of the Gloria Naylor Archive, a physical and digital space making the works of Gloria Naylor available, directed by Suzanne M. Edwards and Mary Foltz
Gloria Naylor Archive
Suzanne M. Edwards (Project Co-director), Lehigh University
Mary Foltz (Project Co-director), Lehigh University
Ayanna Woods (Research Assistant), Lehigh University
Victoria Davis (Website Designer), Lehigh University
Rob Weidman (Technical Consultant), Lehigh University
Jina DuVernay, Clark Atlanta University
Seretha Williams, Augusta University
Suzanne M. Edwards and Mary Foltz
The Gloria Naylor Archive makes the author’s collected papers widely accessible — to scholars, educators, students, and fans. Gloria Naylor (1950-2016) is known for her published novels, which represent a wide range of interconnected Black communities in the late 20th century — The Women of Brewster Place (1982), Linden Hills (1985), Mama Day (1988), Bailey’s Café (1992), The Men of Brewster Place (1988). Her collected papers, which include more than 47 linear feet of material, offer fresh insights into these well-known works and, more importantly, bring into focus Naylor’s less well-known artistic endeavors as an essayist, a film producer, a screenwriter and playwright, an active letter-writer, and an archivist of 20th-century Black life.
The Gloria Naylor Archive is both a physical space where visitors are invited to consult all of Naylor’s papers in person and also a digital resource where visitors can learn more about her life, her known works, scholarship on her published novels, the scope and contents of all the archival materials, and in-depth highlights of select archival documents. Through the WordPress site, visitors can also access digitized archival materials in an Omeka repository. Because all archival materials remain under the copyright of the Gloria Naylor estate, visitors must request access to the materials on the Omeka site.
The Gloria Naylor Archive was founded in 2009 when Gloria Naylor donated her collected papers to Sacred Heart University (SHU). In 2018, SHU and Lehigh University began a collaboration to make the Archive more accessible. As part of this collaboration, Naylor’s papers were temporarily relocated to Lehigh, through 2023. At Lehigh, faculty and graduate researchers have worked on processing and digitizing materials, creating the website and Omeka repository, and building a network of Naylor scholars who participate in our project planning. When the physical archive returns to SHU, Lehigh will continue to maintain and develop the website and digital archive. This collaborative arrangement respects Naylor’s wishes for her archive, eases the burden on SHU’s understaffed library, and ensures ongoing access to archival materials.
We have completed a detailed finding aid for the collection. This finding aid (an Excel spreadsheet) includes extensive data about the types of materials in the archive, agents, and subjects; it will be the basis for creating metadata in Omeka. So far we have digitized approximately a third of the collection related to The Women of Brewster Place, Linden Hills, and Mama Day with grant funding. We are actively seeking additional funding to digitize the remainder of the collection, including Naylor’s extensive correspondence.
In November 2021, we launched a virtual exhibition of archival materials, titled “Other Places,” which was also staged in person and open to the public at Lehigh’s Maginnes Hall. The exhibition, which includes photos, documents, and video, is designed in partnership with community members (public school teachers, religious leaders, activists, and artists), who received compensation to share resources on the archive website.
Jina DuVernay and Seretha Williams
The Gloria Naylor Archive is both a literary and a library science endeavor. The website contextualizes the creative and academic career of Gloria Naylor, whose first novel, The Women of Brewster Place, won the National Book Award in 1983. The novel was adapted into a film and Naylor’s subsequent novels solidified her critical and commercial success. The website and archive position Naylor squarely within the category of literary fiction that fosters critical attention. The digitization of Naylor’s papers, which are temporarily on loan at Lehigh University, aids in the continued critical study of Naylor, whose work is integral to the emergence of Black women’s writing between 1970 and 1995.
The Gloria Naylor Archive articulates its primary objectives in its mission statement and guiding commitments. The project’s primary goals are to preserve and promote engagement with Gloria Naylor’s work by digitizing the Gloria Naylor Archive and making it widely accessible for scholars, educators, and the broader community. The website includes biographical and bibliographical information, selected critical engagements with the Naylor archive, information on accessing the archive, and tools for further research.
The WordPress website includes a StoryMap digital exhibit, audio of collection entries, and links to related archives. Additionally, the project uses Omeka to manage image files and to document metadata for artifacts in the archive. This digital repository is essential for the study of Gloria Naylor and her critical work.
Inclusivity: The project focuses on the work of Gloria Naylor, an African American author and academic. One of the guiding commitments of the project is to center Black creatives and scholars. Additionally, the project includes a list of related archives at other institutions. In doing so, the project situates Gloria Naylor’s work within a broader critical conversation. Information on all of the project’s contributors is also included on the website.
Accessibility: Text size is adjustable on both the desktop and cellphone versions of the website. Mostly, the font size, weight, and colors align with accessibility guidelines. However, some sections of pages may be difficult to read because of insufficient color contrast on white backgrounds. The project “[presents] material in varied formats—images, videos, scholarly articles, informal blog posts, performances—to promote access.” Additionally, the symposium will take place in-person but will also be accessible online.
Sustainability: The Naylor archive is on temporary loan to Lehigh University. In May 2023, the physical collection returns to Sacred Heart University. However, the digitized selections from Series 2 may remain accessible to researchers beyond 2023. Additionally, the project team is seeking more funding to digitize the remainder of the collection.