Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
Professor Gates is Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field of African American Studies and Africana Studies. He is co-editor with K. Anthony Appiah of the encyclopedia Encarta Africana published on CD-ROM by Microsoft (1999), and in book form by Basic Civitas Books under the title Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (1999). Oxford University Press published an expanded five-volume edition of the encyclopedia in 2005. He is most recently the author of Finding Oprah's Roots, Finding Your Own (Crown, 2007), a meditation on genetics, genealogy, and race. His other recent books are America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans (Warner Books, 2004), African American Lives, co-edited with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Oxford, 2004), and The Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin, edited with Hollis Robbins (W. W. Norton, 2006).
In 2006, Professor Gates wrote and produced the PBS documentary also called "African American Lives," the first documentary series to employ genealogy and science to provide an understanding of African American history. In 2007, a follow-up one-hour documentary, "Oprah's Roots: An African American Lives Special," aired on PBS, further examining the genealogical and genetic heritage of Oprah Winfrey, who had been featured in the original documentary. Professor Gates also wrote and produced the documentaries "Wonders of the African World" (2000) and "America Beyond the Color Line" (2004) for the BBC and PBS, and authored the companion volumes to both series. Professor Gates is currently at work on a four-hour sequel to "African American Lives," which is scheduled to air in February 2008.
Professor Gates is the author of several works of literary criticism, including Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the "Racial" Self (Oxford University Press, 1987); and The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (Oxford, 1988), winner of the American Book Award in 1989. He authenticated and facilitated the publication, in 1983, of Our Nig, or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black (1859), by Harriet Wilson, the first novel published by an African American woman. Two decades later, in 2002, Professor Gates authenticated and published The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts, dating from the early 1850s and now considered one of the first novels written by an African American woman. He is the co-author, with Cornel West, of The Future of the Race (Knopf, 1996), and the author of a memoir, Colored People (Knopf, 1994), that traces his childhood experiences in a small West Virginia town in the 1950s and 1960s. Among his other books are The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers (Basic Civitas Books, 2003); Thirteen Ways of Looking at A Black Man (Random House, 1997); and Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars (Oxford 1992). He is completing a book on race and writing in the eighteenth century, entitled "Black Letters and the Enlightenment."
Professor Gates has edited several influential anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (W. W. Norton, 1996); and the Schomburg Library of Nineteenth Century Black Women Writers (Oxford, 1991). He is the editor of numerous essay collections, including Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology (Meridian, 1990); "Race," Writing, and Difference (University of Chicago, 1986); and, with K. Anthony Appiah, volumes on the authors Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Langston Hughes. In addition, Professor Gates is publisher of Transition magazine, an international review of African, Caribbean, and African American politics. An influential cultural critic, Professor Gates's publications include a 1994 cover story for Time magazine, numerous articles for the New Yorker, and in September 2004, a biweekly guest column in The New York Times.
Professor Gates earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge, and his B.A. summa cum laude in History from Yale University, where he was a Scholar of the House, in 1973. He became a member of Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year at Yale. Before joining the faculty of Harvard in 1991, he taught at Yale, Cornell, and Duke. His honors and grants include a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" (1981), the George Polk Award for Social Commentary (1993), Time magazine's "25 Most Influential Americans" list (1997), a National Humanities Medal (1998), election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1999), the Jefferson Lecture (2002), a Visiting Fellowship at the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (2003-2004), and the Jay B. Hubbell Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies from the Modern Language Association (2006). He has received 44 honorary degrees, from institutions including the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, New York University, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Williams College, Emory University, University of Toronto, and the University of Benin, Howard University, University of Vermont, Berea College. In 2006, he was inducted into the Sons of the American Revolution, after he traced his lineage back to John Redman, a Free Negro who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Professor Gates served as Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard from 1991 to 2006. He serves on the boards of the New York Public Library, the Whitney Museum, Lincoln Center Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Aspen Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.
W.E.B. Du Bois and the Encyclopedia Africana
In this informational and intellectually stimulating lecture, Professor Gates delves into the history of W.E.B. Du Bois's three failed attempts to edit a black encyclopedia Britannica, and our efforts to bring Du Bois's dream to fruition.
African American Lives: Genealogy, Genetics, and Black History
A lively discussion on individual lineage and African American History in which Professor Gates addresses research, DNA analysis, and poignant family stories.
The African American National Biography
As the Editor of the African American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press in 2008, Professor Gates provides eye-opening analysis of the text while illuminating the abiding influence of persons of African descent on the life line of America.