Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.,

1950–, American scholar and critic, b. Keyser, W.Va., B.A. Yale, 1973, Ph.D. Cambridge, 1979, where he studied with Wole SoyinkaSoyinka, Wole
, 1934–, Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, and political activist, born Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka. Educated at the universities of Ibadan and Leeds, England, and at London's Royal Court Theatre, he writes in English, fusing Western and Yoruba
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. Gates is an expert on African-American literature and culture. His rediscovery and reinterpretation of historic black literature began in 1981 with his finding, authenticating, and publishing of the first known novel by an African American, Harriet E. Wilson's Our Nig (1859). Since then Gates has been instrumental in bringing other lost or forgotten works to light. His many books of criticism include Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the "Racial" Self (1987) and The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism (1988), in which he developed the notion of "signifyin(g)," a linguistic tradition running throughout black culture that describes things or people by the use of humor, paradox, indirection, boast, and insult. His nonacademic works include Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (1997) and Life upon These Shores (2011), and he coedited The Dictionary of Global Culture (1997) and The Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin (2006). Among his many documentaries are the PBS series on the African American experience (2013), African civilizations (2017), and Reconstruction (2019), for which he also wrote companion books. He also created and hosts the PBS's Finding Your Roots (2012–), in which genealogy and genetics are used to explore the ancestries of prominent Americans. Gates has taught at several universities, including Yale (1979–85), Cornell (1985–90), and Harvard (1991–), where he heads the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.


See his memoir, Colored People: Letters to My Daughters (1993); A. Wolf, ed., The Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Reader (2012).

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Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.

(1950–  ) educator; born in Keyser, W.Va. He graduated from Yale (1973) and was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, England (1979). Sometimes called a "literary archaeologist," he unearthed, edited, and compiled important African-American texts, especially from the slavery period. In addition to his scholarly work, he increasingly wrote and spoke about broader issues relevant to African-Americans and their relations to society at large. His fame made him the subject of "bidding wars" between major universities; he taught at Yale (1979–85), Cornell (1985–90), Duke (1990–91), and Harvard (1991).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. 1988: The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. "Do the Right Thing: Issues and Images." The New York Times 9 July 1989, 2:1.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man." New Yorker 23 October 1995: 56-60; 62-65.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory ofAfrican American Criticism.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. "in Her Own Write." Shields, Collected vii-xxii.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. "The Trope of a New Negro and the Reconstruction of the Image of the Black." Representations 24 (Fall 1988): 129-55.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., "Zora Neale Hurston and the Speakerly Text." Southern Literature and Literary Theory.