Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., 1950–, American scholar and critic, b. Keyser, W.Va., grad. Yale (B.A. 1973), Cambridge (Ph.D. 1979), where he studied with Wole Soyinka. 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 previously lost 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 develops 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). He is also coeditor of The Dictionary of Global Culture (1997) and The Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin (2006). In 1999 he wrote and hosted a public television series on Africa and wrote a companion text, Wonders of the African World. Gates has taught at several universities, including Yale (1979–85), Cornell (1985–90), and Harvard (1991–), where he is the director of 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.