Henry Louis Gates

Academic Historian

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is most recently the author of Finding Oprah’s Roots, Finding Your Own (Crown, 2007) and the host and executive producer of the critically acclaimed 2006 PBS series “African American Lives” and its follow-up, “Oprah’s Roots.”

Professor Gates is Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field of African American and Africana Studies. He is co-editor, with K. Anthony Appiah, of Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (1999) which is the companion text to the Encarta Africana CD-ROM encyclopedia, published by Microsoft the same year. With Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, he is the co-editor of the biographical encyclopedia African American Lives (Oxford, 2004), and the online African American National Biography database.

Professor Gates is the author of several books, including The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (Oxford, 1988), winner of the 1989 American Book Award, and Colored People: A Memoir (Knopf, 1994). Professor Gates authenticated and published two landmark African American texts: Our Nig, or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black (1859), by Harriet Wilson, the first novel published by an African American woman; and The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts, one of the first novels written by an African American woman. In 2006, he and Hollis Robbins co-edited The Annotated Uncle Tom’s Cabin, edited with Hollis Robbins (W. W. Norton, 2006).

An influential cultural critic, Professor Gates has written for Time magazine, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. He is the editor of several anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (W.W. Norton, 1996). Professor Gates also produced and hosted two previous series for PBS, 1999’s “Wonders of the African World” and 2004’s “America Beyond the Color Line.”

Professor Gates earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge. He received a B.A. in history, summa cum laude, from Yale University in 1973. The recipient of nearly 50 honorary degrees and a 1981 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award,” Professor Gates was also named one of Time magazine’s “25 Most Influential Americans” in 1997, one of the “100 Most Influential Black Americans” by Ebony in 2005, received a National Humanities Medal in 1998, and in 1999 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

W.E.B. Du Bois and the Making of the Encyclopedia Africana, 1909-1963

In their introduction to Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, co-editors Henry Louis Gates and Kwame Anthony Appiah describe W.E.B. Du Bois’s half century campaign to publish an encyclopedia that would encompass the African diaspora.  That introduction appears below. Between 1909 … Read MoreW.E.B. Du Bois and the Making of the Encyclopedia Africana, 1909-1963