Sacred Heart University to Digitize the Work of Gloria Naylor with Help of Lehigh University

News Story: March 13, 2019

From top left, clockwise: Librarian Gavin Ferriby acquires the archive in Brooklyn, 2009; Gloria Naylor; Gavin Ferriby, Suzanne Edwards and Mary Foltz from Lehigh and CAS Associate Dean Michelle Loris; a detail of Naylor's writingsFrom top left, clockwise: Librarian Gavin Ferriby acquires the archive in Brooklyn, 2009; Gloria Naylor; Ferriby, Suzanne Edwards and Mary Foltz from Lehigh and CAS Associate Dean Michelle Loris with the archive; a detail of Naylor's writings

A decade after obtaining author and activist Gloria Naylor’s writings, Sacred Heart University has partnered with Lehigh University to digitize the author’s work.

Faculty members from Lehigh, a college in Bethlehem, PA, were on campus during spring break with a professional art moving company to pick up nearly 60 boxes of Naylor’s writings from SHU’s Ryan Matura Library. Over the course of two years, Lehigh will digitize the works, which will then be available through SHU’s Digital Commons for all to view. The original materials will be returned to SHU once the project is completed.

“I’m terrifically pleased,” said Gavin Ferriby, university librarian. “We found the ideal collaborator.”

Ferriby was at Naylor’s Brooklyn brownstone in June 2009 with Michelle Loris, associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and Catholic studies chair; Funda Alp, executive director of sponsored programs; and Tracy Deer-Mirek, associate director of communications, to obtain the boxes. “I personally loaded those writings from her Park Slope home onto a SHU van,” Ferriby said.

Ferriby hoped to digitize the material for the last 10 years. During that time, he and others went through the boxes, which were filled with Naylor’s journals, letters, notes and more. They examined the works, but weren’t able to preserve them professionally until Lehigh associate professors of English Suzanne Edwards and Mary Foltz excitedly reached out about the ability to digitize them.

Naylor’s work is taught at SHU as part of the Common Core Curriculum, Ferriby said. Over the years, several students have written papers on her and were able to use some of the archived material, he added. 

“Gloria Naylor is a significant writer from the mid-20th century,” he said. “She’s part of the post-Harlem renaissance. Her writings bear witness to African-American life at that time.” Her most popular books are the Women of Brewster Place, Linden Hills and Mama Day.

“Naylor’s work addresses contemporary issues of racism, sexism, homophobia and poverty,” Loris said. “Her works also use classical writers like Dante, Chaucer and Shakespeare as part of the scaffolding for her novels. Her works include religious, spiritual and magical themes and figures. Her writing style is beautiful, eloquent, lyrical, and her characters are alive and so very memorable.”

How it all started

In the 1990s, Loris published and co-edited a collection of crucial essays on Naylor’s work, The Critical Response to Gloria Naylor. But before Loris finished the book, she contacted Naylor for an interview. Naylor agreed and invited Loris to her Brooklyn home. “She was so gracious, smart and funny,” she said. That interview appears in the last chapter of Loris’s book.

Because Naylor’s novels are an important part of contemporary American literature, Loris nominated her for a SHU honorary degree, which she received in 1994. Loris said they corresponded over the years, and Naylor always retained an affection for SHU. Naylor felt honored to receive the degree, and the University’s mission resonated with her. Both factors influenced her to gift her legacy of writings to the University.

“It was an incredible treasure trove of materials from a then-living author,” Loris said. “It was an unbelievable gift for Sacred Heart.”

In 2013, Loris arranged a luncheon and book-signing with Naylor on campus, during which she formally presented her works and research materials to the library. Loris said Naylor was delighted by the event.

Naylor died in 2016.

What Digitization Means

Digitizing the works means all scholars will be able to access Naylor’s writings, Loris said. “It will be an enormous resource for teaching and research on a contemporary African-American female writer whose work is a popular part of syllabi across universities,” she said.

The collaboration with Lehigh is just as exciting, Loris said. Both universities hope to develop initiatives and opportunities to engage undergraduate students in research. They also hope to develop seminars on Naylor.

“In short, Gloria Naylor was a terrific writer whose writings, and the legacy she left to Sacred Heart University, are an extraordinary gift to us all,” Loris said.