Henry Louis Gates Jr. was born in September 16, 1950 in West Virginia and excelled in studies from an early age, regardless of his underprivileged family background. Graduating from high school as valedictorian in 1968, Gates attended a local college before enrolling in Yale University from where he graduated in 1973 with a degree in History.
Continuing his education in Clare College, a part of University of Cambridge, Gates graduated with a doctorate degree in English Language in 1979, becoming the first African-American to receive a PhD from the university.
In the 1980s, Gates became a renowned scholar of African-American literature, culture and history, teaching at Yale University, Duke University and Harvard University, eventually becoming the head of its African American studies department. He currently serves as the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University.
Serving as a researcher, he started work on the Black Periodical Literature Project, uncovering lost literary works published in 1800s including the first novel published by an African-American in the United States. To support his scholarship in African-American literature, Gates also received a grant from McArthur Foundation in 1981.
Henry Louis Gates continued to make contributions to the field of literature in various forms, be it an editor or a contributor to the field of literary theory. Some of his works include Black Literature and Literary Theory, Bearing Witness: Selections from African American Autobiography in the Twentieth Century and The Signifying Monkey: Towards a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism.
Adopting signifying, the practice of representing an idea indirectly through a humorous or insulting commentary, Gates developed its notion in pieces like Figures in Black and The Signifying Monkey, talking about issues concerning literature, music and even slavery. Other works by Gates include Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, Colored People: A Memoir, Thirteen ways of Looking at a Black Man, In Search of Our Roots and The Future of the Race.
Recently, Gates became involved in various educational projects for television as well. Contributing specifically to the collection of documentaries, Gates wrote and produced a number of documentaries such as Wonders of the African World, America beyond the Colour line and African American Lives. He now plans on filming a documentary on Oprah Winfrey and a sequel to African American Lives.
The writer has also received various awards and honors, including induction into the Sons of the American Revolution in 2006 and being named one of Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential Americans. Owning more than 50 honorary degrees, Henry Louis Gates was also chosen by the National Endowment for the Humanities to give the Jefferson Lecture.