Omnibus of writings on race discourse and genealogy over three decades by the eminent Harvard professor.
Most notably in the academic world, Gates (Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513–2008, 2011, etc.) excavated and promoted the significant original mid-19th-century African-American women’s narratives Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson (rediscovered in 1982) and The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts (first published in 2002). The author’s insightful introductions to both works are reproduced here. He has been instrumental in reinvigorating the African-American literary tradition by drawing on these and other little-known or otherwise lost contributions—e.g., work by early poet Phillis Wheatley, who was writing at a time when the absence of black writing proved to many the inferiority of the race. Yet for Gates these long-lost writings proved both their “certificate of humanity,” by embracing the European tradition, and their utter distinctness, especially in terms of language. As director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, he has co-edited important volumes dear to the legacy of Du Bois such as African America Lives and Africana: The Encyclopedia of African and African American Experience, the prefaces to which also appear here. In his persistent delving into genealogical research of his own family and those of famous others such as Oprah Winfrey, he has made some fascinating and troubling disclosures—e.g., outing Anatole Broyard and Jean Toomer for “passing” for white. Finally, he demonstrates in numerous journalistic pieces that he is an engaging and accessible writer, especially in interviews with Josephine Baker and James Baldwin and with Condoleezza Rice.
A meaty selection from Gates’ large-bodied work.