Published in 1972, Gorilla, My Love is Toni Cade Bambara's first book-length work of fiction. However, she had been publishing short fiction in periodicals for some time. "Sweet Home" (which appears in Gorilla, My Love under the title "Sweet Town") appeared in Vendome in 1959, when Bambara was only 20. This was her first story to be narrated by a child, a conceit that she uses in almost all of the stories in this collection. Over the next decade, she gradually gained fame and acclaim as a short-story writer, and published most of this collection's stories in literary and political journals. The collection's title story appeared in Redbook Magazine in 1971, under the title "I Ain't Playin', I'm Hurtin'."
The characters' youth is not the only common thread running between Bambara's early stories. The characters also have similar personalities. As Bambara explained to an interviewer several years after Gorilla's publication:
There are certain kinds of spirits that I'm very appreciative of, people who are tough, but very compassionate. You put me in any neighborhood, in any city, and I will tend to gravitate toward that type. The kid in "Gorilla" (the story as well as that collection) is a kind of person who will survive, and she's triumphant in her survival. (Guy-Sheftall)
Gorilla, My Love achieved a moderate level of popularity when it was published. However, it was most thoroughly embraced by academics, many of whom analyzed the stories for their political subtexts. More recently, research on the collection has shifted focus from social and political analysis to exploration of Bambara's unique style and characterization (Muther). The collection continues to be read in college and high-school courses today.