Books by Henry Louis Gates

Released: Nov. 13, 2000

"Diverting but hardly cutting-edge."
Gates (Identities) and West (Race Matters, 1993, etc.) have compiled over 100 essays of mostly biographical material on some fairly well-known figures in the arts, military life, sports, civil rights, politics, and religion. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1997

One of America's leading African-American intellectuals conducts conversations on blackness with famous black men. One can only guess the significance of the title, because Gates (Humanities and Black Studies/Harvard; Colored People: A Memoir, 1994) offers no explanation. Depending on how one counts, it may be the number of black men featured, because even though there are seven profiles (James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Bill T. Jones, Colin Powell, Louis Farrakhan, Albert Murray, Anatole Broyard), each devolves into conversations that draw in other men (Ralph Ellison, Romare Bearden, O.J. Simpson, Jesse Jackson, Eldridge Cleaver, Sidney Poitier). Or 13 may refer to the number of subsections in the introduction, delineating themes that recur through the book, all involving the conflicts, struggles, and inescapability of being black and male in America. In a chapter bearing the same title as the book, 13 may be the number of takes Gates offers on the O.J. Simpson trial, each exploring ``black wariness'' and how whites are constantly surprised by its persistence and depth. And, finally, there may be 13 different ways in which these men approach their blackness, from choreographer Jones, who exploits the blackness of his body in his dance, to Broyard, who spent his life denying his blackness but whose writing was deeply informed by it. The profiles, written over several years and many of which appeared in the New Yorker, provide the skeletons upon which Gates hangs explorations of large themes, drawing intellectuals, poets, and politicians into the discussion. In the end, the concerns of this rich gallery of fascinating and brilliant characters prove to be universal, even as they are rooted in black maleness. Thus, it's not the riddle of the title that finally counts as much as the 13 times 13 questions that Gates raises through these men: questions about interconnections and separations, to be addressed not just by other black men but by all Americans. Read full book review >
COLORED PEOPLE by Henry Louis Gates
Released: May 18, 1994

One of the country's top black scholars offers a tender memoir of his youth in a West Virginia paper mill town in the 1950s and '60s. Gates (African-American Studies/Harvard) trades the academic jargon of his literary criticism (as in Loose Canons, 1992) for a dead-on conversational voice threaded with black vernacular. ``I am not native to the great black metropolises,'' he declares at the outset, yet in Piedmont, a town of 2,100 (circa 1950) in northeastern West Virginia, race contoured existence. The civil rights era, pictured on television, arrived slowly, as ``school was virtually the only integrated arena'' after Brown v. Board of Education. But Gates's world was rich: He describes sex education in a talky barbershop, self-righteous teetotalers on his mother's side, and card-playing punsters on his father's. He battled with his sardonic father, a millworker; retreated to the church to cope with a depressive mother; grew enamored of Africa in current events class; and became a reader to bridge the gap with a white girl whose friendship he lost as puberty arrived. In church camp, at the time of the Watts riots, he first read James Baldwin, whose picture seemed ``so very Negro.'' Gates began battling with his relatives as he grew the first Afro in town, proclaimed himself black, and moved on to the local state college five miles away. But he knows enough now to wince at some of his rhetoric and to celebrate his mother's earlier civil rights protests. Gates ends the book with a warm portrait of the last segregated black mill picnic, which he convincingly depicts as a loss to the black community under integration. Gates left West Virginia for Yale and a meteoric career; the worlds he has seen since should someday make a terrific sequel. Read full book review >
Released: April 30, 1992

A distinguished scholar fires his salvo in the Battle of the Books now raging in academe over opening core curricula to non- Western works by women and people of color. In these collected essays, Gates (African-American Studies and English/Harvard; co-ed., The Slave's Narrative, 1984) notes that the analysis of texts has become ``a marionette theater of the political''—but thinks that it has been ever thus for conservatives, who have long sustained ``the hegemony of the Western tradition.'' Gates feels that the fruits of his specialty should be integrated into the teaching of all students of all races—a centrist position between separatists of the left such as Leonard Jeffries and the inevitable academic bogeymen of the right, Allan Bloom and William J. Bennett. Gates makes the case for multiculturalism as persuasively and eloquently as any advocate has to date: ``If we relinquish the ideal of America as a plural nation, common sense tells us that we've abandoned the very experiment that America represents.'' Yet while at times these pieces throw off such strong reminders of their author's passion, wit, and immense talent that one can forgive his facile, shrill caricature of opponents (do all critics of multiculturalism really want to return to ``the thrilling days of yesterday, when God was in His heaven and all was white with the world''?), only in his MLA address, ``Goodbye, Columbus? Critical Remarks,'' does he acknowledge excessive political correctness among multiculturalists. Two Sam Spade parodies that name a group of canon conspirators provide the only stylistic relief among these essays, which generally are repetitious and overloaded with eye- glazing phrases from critical theory (``autotelic artifacts,'' ``discursive subjects,'' and ``tropes,'' etc.). Ironically, Gates's attempt to broaden the audience for the excluded fails for the simplest of reasons: It is written in narrowly constricting academic jargon. Read full book review >