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Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
One of the leading African-American critics, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was born in Piedmont, West Virginia. Raised during the racial transition of the 1950s and 1960s, Gates and his writings are greatly influenced by this dramatic historical period marked by a tense and paradoxical coexistence between isolation and integration.
Now the Chair of the Afro-American Studies Department and Director of the W.E.B Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Studies (the nation’s oldest research centre dedicated to the study of the history, culture, and social institutions of African Americans) at Harvard University, Gates also authored and co-authored several books. Along with this prolific passion of his, he has edited and co-edited other books and has written articles for important magazines such as The New Yorker, Time, and The New Republic.
Gates also published bibliographies of great writers such as Wole Soyinka (the 1986 Nobel Prize laureate from Nigeria and one of contemporary Africa’s greatest writers) following his need for established common African American roots. Great books such as Figures in Black: Works, signs, and the “Racial” Self and Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars also demonstrate Gates interest for cultural tradition and collective past concerning African Americans. But despite being a strong defendant of African- American culture, he also praises the tolerance toward other cultures and cultural understanding.
In one of his most famous work Colored People: A memoir (1994) Gates expresses his own perception of African-American culture in the United States discussing about his personal experiences through suffering and successful accomplishments.
Judged for his uncritical writing and for “taking African American works out of the context of the cultural environment that produced them”, “the fact remains that Gates addresses cultural, historical, and literary discourses in an accessible manner that appeals to a broad audience”(Tomas Jaehn). Gates has the concern to express his own and complex perceptions of African-American culture in a readable way so the public can understand and share his ideas and passions within a true but complex reality.
“His (Gates) work has widened the acceptance of African American Studies and has given it more recognition and respectability as a serious field of study” (Tomas Jaehn).