Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
American Academy Distinguished Visitor - Class of Fall 2003
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is one of the most prominent and well-known academics in the United States. He has drawn the world’s attention to Harvard’s Afro-American Studies program since he took over as its chair, and his reputation has been solidly built on several fronts as well. As a critic and editor, Gates contributed to broadening the discourse on African American literature with books like Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the Racial Self (1987) and The Signifying Monkey: Towards a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988), which offer refreshing critical approaches that consider cultural traditions in African American literature. Gates has been instrumental in changing the literary canon in U.S. education and bringing literary history to light through the numerous critical texts and republished works he has edited, as well as lost manuscripts he has discovered. Gates narrated a major PBS documentary on Africa and co-edited a Pan- African encyclopedia on CD-ROM for Microsoft.