The Joan Didion and Gloria Naylor Archives

“Archives of prominent authors, like Gloria Naylor – or Joan Didion, provide a treasure trove of materials that launch new scholarship and insight into the lives and works of the author and their process,” said Susan Luchars, Librarian for the College of Arts and Sciences at Sacred Heart University (SHU).

The New York Public Library has recently acquired the archives of Didion and her husband, John Gegory Dunne. These archives include hundreds of candid photographs of their lives, letters, notes, manuscripts and more.

Didion produced decades of significant work across many different genres. “Play it as it lays” is considered to be one of her most important works. She wrote novels, essays, screenplays, political dispatches, reportings and memoirs, all of which are noted for their distinctive voices. Didion has been praised for her style, poignancy, decisiveness and critical eye.

This spring, SHU is receiving Naylor’s archives, after five years at Lehigh University. In 2009, Naylor gifted her extensive archives to SHU, the first university to grant her an honorary degree.

Naylor came to fame for her expression of the Black experience in America. She depicted the lives of the lower class, living in nonideal circumstances and the troubles they faced. Her award-winning novel, “The Women of Brewster Place,” has become a required text for English 201 courses.

“Students loved the book, and teachers loved the book. It really resonated with them,” said Dr. Michelle Loris, Associate Dean of Curriculum and Special Projects at SHU.

Naylor had a long history with Loris. Loris admired her “passionate and exquisite literary depictions” which inspired her to explore more of Naylor’s work. In 1994, she encouraged the university to give Naylor her first honorary degree, based on her significance in the literary world.

“She was so honored, delighted and grateful, she really connected to SHU’s mission for social justice and its culture of community and belonging,” said Loris.

Later on, Loris compiled a book of critical essays on Naylor’s work and got to interview her multiple times. Through their many interactions, they grew a strong collegial connection and relationship, which led Naylor to believe that SHU was the right place for her archives.

In 2009, Loris and two students went to Naylor’s home in Brooklyn, N.Y. and collected 60 boxes of letters, notes, drafts, maps, research and more. These archives were stored at the SHU Library for nine years, until two scholars from Lehigh University asked to borrow them for digitization.

“They did a fabulous job digitizing; they’re making the archives freely available virtually for everyone. But the archives are ready to come back to SHU now in 2023,” said Loris.

Among those excited to deep dive into the archives is junior English major, Colleen Degennaro.

“Naylor’s archives will allow students and faculty alike to immerse themselves in the literary journey of one of the greats, as well as to interact with the writers and artists who, like us, have been inspired by her brilliance. I think Naylor’s intelligence and sensitivity will truly shine in her nonfiction writing,” said Degennaro.

Luchars also expressed her excitement, curiosity and interest in going through the archives.

“Who knows what discoveries SHU students and staff will make once they are introduced to these rare and unique objects collected by Gloria Naylor during her lifetime?” said Luchars.

“To have an important author’s archives at our university gives the University stature, reputation gravitas. She could have given her archives to any of those schools, but she chose Sacred Heart University,” said Loris.

To celebrate the return of the archives, Loris and SHU are planning to honor Naylor with a celebration in October. The commemoration will include keynote speakers, an exhibit showcasing her work, and the archives on display.

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