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Stanford Report, September 30, 1998

Harvard's Gates launches fall lectures: 9/98

Henry Louis Gates first speaker as arts, humanities lectures resume


Henry Louis Gates Jr., the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Humanities at Harvard University, will launch the second year of the Stanford Presidential Lectures and Symposia in the Humanities and Arts with a public lecture at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12, in Kresge Auditorium.

Gates also will sign copies of his books at the Bookstore at 4 p.m. on Oct. 12 and participate in a discussion from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the Humanities Center Annex.

All events are free and open to the public.

Related Information:

The presidential lecture series is designed to bring distinguished scholars, artists and critics to campus. Funded by the President's Office, the events are part of President Gerhard Casper's plan to strengthen and revitalize the humanities and arts at Stanford by exploring new roles and relationships for the humanities and arts in the academic community on the brink of the 21st century.

Last year's speakers were the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, architect Peter Eisenman, French playwright Helene Cixous and critic Harold Bloom. Speakers scheduled to speak in fall quarter, in addition to Gates, are the following:

Additional speakers for winter, spring and fall quarters 1999 are Fredric Jameson, Alexander Nehamas, Jean Starobinski, Jacques Derrida, Stefan Maul, Pina Bausch, Svetlana Alpers and Umberto Eco.

"The website the library is doing is just beautiful and we now have the pages up for the first two lectures in the fall," says Hans Gumbrecht, the Albert GuÚrard Professor of Literature and director of the series. "In this second year of the series we're also hosting symposia to address the relationship between the humanities and sciences and we plan to have some special events, too. For example, we'd like to try to bring Kasparov, the world chess champion, to campus to play against Deep Blue."

The four symposia are as follows:

Leading off the lecture series this fall, Gates will speak about "Race and Class/Race in Class." As chair of the Afro-American Studies Department at Harvard and head of the university's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research, he is a scholar of black literature, culture and history and an advocate for the place of African American studies in the academy. A prolific author, Gates' books include Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, a compilation of profiles of prominent black men; The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism, which won the 1989 American Book Award; Colored People: A Memoir, which won the Chicago Tribune's 1994 Heartland Award; and The Future of the Race.

Gates also is a staff writer for The New Yorker and produces about six profiles for the magazine each year. He has written about authors James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray and Anatole Broyard; retired Army general Colin Powell; Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan; entertainer Harry Belafonte; Red Cross head Elizabeth Dole; and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Gates currently is working with Harvard colleague Kwame Anthony Appiah and Microsoft on a CD-ROM, Encarta Africana, which he describes as covering history "from early humans in Africa millions of years ago to today, from Lucy to rap music." A reference work on Africa and people of African descent, content ranges from virtual tours of Harlem and Senegal to performances by Duke Ellington and Whoopi Goldberg. It will be released in February for $50 retail.

Before joining the Harvard faculty in 1991, Gates had taught at Yale, Cornell and Duke. Since then he has recruited a number of leading scholars to his department, including philosopher Cornel West, sociologist William Julius Wilson, historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and philosopher and novelist Kwame Anthony Appiah.

"Despite the fact that some have criticized him and the other members of the Harvard 'dream team' in African American studies for overly promoting themselves, I think that he has made a positive contribution to the field through his activities," says Clayborne Carson, professor of history and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford.

"I worked closely with him on a national committee to deal with problems in black-Jewish relations and found him to be extremely generous and an easy person to work with. I wish that Stanford had recruited him when he was available; even more, I hope that Stanford will recognize the need to devote sufficient resources to build a comparable program here in the African American field."

Sandra Drake, associate professor of English, praises Gates' "invaluable contributions to U.S. intellectual life through his contributions to African American studies," citing his "theorization of African American literary traditions," his research "aimed at recuperation of early African American writing" and his encouragement of other scholars of African american literature.

"My hopes for the dialogue his talk at Stanford might provoke include further explorations of literary theory and the infrastructure of African-American writing," Drake says. "I would like to hear Professor Gates' thoughts on affirmative action and how attacking affirmative action relates to other attacks on the African American community in the society."

Recalling a reading Gates did from Colored People: A Memoir during his last visit to Palo Alto, Horace Porter, associate professor of English, calls the Harvard scholar "an engaging and witty speaker."

"He is a true rarity," Porter adds. "He is a leading scholar and editor in African American studies, as well as a prolific and controversial commentator on American cultural studies."

Given the focus on the future of the humanities and arts in higher education for the lecture series, Gumbrecht says Gates is "specifically important" to the discussion.

"He is someone who has really changed his own discipline," he adds. "He has given African American studies an interdisciplinary complexity, and the Du Bois Institute has become a model for reform and rethinking of more traditional disciplines." SR