Prof Henry Louis Gates Jr.


A renown literary critic, historian, filmmaker, teacher and public intellectual, Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. was born in 1950, in West Virginia, USA. He had humble beginnings; in his memoir he described his father working in a paper mill while also moonlighting as a janitor, and his mother cleaning houses. After graduating from Piedmont High School in 1968 and subsequently studying at Potomac State College of West Virginia University, he went on to complete his BA degree in history at Yale University. He excelled, graduating summa cum laude and became the first African American to be awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship. Following this, he embarked on a PhD at Clare College, Cambridge. He studied English literature at Clare College, completing his degree in 1979.

His career as a lecturer began in 1975 in Afro-American Studies Department where he progressed to hold jointly appointed assistant professorship position in English and Afro-American Studies in 1979, and became an associate professor in 1984. He spent 5 years as a tenured professor at Cornell and Duke universities, and was recruited to Harvard in 1991. He has since served in various positions at the University and is currently the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard.

His work spans a vast range of topics and mediums through which he has stressed the need for the recognition and inclusion of black literature and culture in the larger pluralistic canon. He has written numerous books, created over a dozen films, and has produced documentaries on Africa's Great Civilisations. His writings are regularly featured in The New York Times, Time Magazine, and The New Yorker. In 1981, he was a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius grant” and was also the first African American to be awarded the National Humanities Medal in 1998.

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