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Getting on

Joyce Carol Oates

12 January 1995
Colored People: A Memoir 
by Henry Louis Gates.
Viking, 216 pp., £16, January 1995, 0 670 85737 8
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... ethnic identity’ or ‘class’ for the word ‘colour’, and one sees how far-ranging and how potentially anarchic the controversy is. And how far from being resolved, or even fully articulated. HenryLouisGates, professor of English and chairman of Afro-American Studies at Harvard, has been one of the most articulate commentators on the subject. His first scholarly interest was the recovery and ...

Every single one matters

Elaine Showalter and English Showalter: The first black female novelist?

18 August 2005
In Search of Hannah Crafts: Critical Essays on ‘The Bondwoman’s Narrative’ 
edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr and Hollis Robbins.
Basic Books, 458 pp., £17.50, January 2005, 0 465 02708 3
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... On 11 November 2001, the New York Times announced a major literary discovery. HenryLouisGates, chairman of the African-American Studies Department at Harvard, had bought at auction the unpublished manuscript of the ‘earliest known novel by a female African-American slave and probably the ...

The Shape of Absence

Hilary Mantel: The Bondwoman’s Narrative

8 August 2002
The Bondwoman’s Narrative: A Novel 
by Hannah Crafts, edited by Henry Louis Gates.
Virago, 338 pp., £10.99, May 2002, 1 86049 013 1
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... still awaiting the attention of scholars who will offer him a grand entrance into history. The 2001 auction offered jazz photographs and religious texts, and the memorabilia of black figures from Joe Louis to Malcolm X. There was an autograph letter from Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who published his autobiography in 1845 and became a leading Abolitionist. There were documents that shed light ...

The Dirty Dozens

Terence Hawkes

21 July 1994
Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars 
by Henry Louis Gates.
Oxford, 199 pp., £15, October 1993, 0 19 507519 6
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The Alchemy of Race and Rights 
by Patricia Williams.
Virago, 263 pp., £7.99, September 1993, 1 85381 674 4
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... matters, involving way of life, language, cultural inheritance and historical and political perceptions of the world at large, are obviously at stake, and in their engagements with these, both HenryLouisGates and Patricia Williams offer despatches from various front lines of what have been called the ‘culture wars’. What is at stake is the meaning of the term ‘America’, and Gates and ...

The Word on the Street

Elaine Showalter

7 March 1996
Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics 
by Anonymous.
Chatto, 366 pp., £15.99, February 1996, 0 7011 6584 7
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... narrator, offspring of a black father and white mother, take the work far beyond the category of topical satire. Anonymous has been strongly influenced by All the King’s Men (1946). His narrator, Henry Burton, the preppy, intellectual grandson of a black American hero like Martin Luther King, sounds a lot like Warren’s troubled and dislocated Jack Burden. His candidate, Jack Stanton, sounds a lot ...

Freddie Gray

Adam Shatz

20 May 2015
... was also an expression of despair among those who are all too accustomed to being treated as if they were thugs. This suspicion isn’t confined to the black poor, either, as Obama’s friend HenryLouisGates discovered when he was arrested while trying to get into his own house, after a phone call to the police from a white bystander. America has undergone a significant racial transformation since ...

White Lies

James Campbell: Nella Larsen

5 October 2006
In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Colour Line 
by George Hutchinson.
Harvard, 611 pp., £25.95, June 2006, 0 674 02180 0
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... being that the narrator was officially black (Johnson published the novel anonymously). More recently, the New York Times critic Anatole Broyard, who died in 1990, was unmasked in the New Yorker by HenryLouisGates. In the early 1950s, Broyard had threatened to sue the publishers of a novel by Chandler Brossard, Who Walk in Darkness, which contained a character evidently based on him. It began ...

What Matters

Walter Benn Michaels: Class Trumps Race

27 August 2009
Who Cares about the White Working Class? 
edited by Kjartan Páll Sveinsson.
Runnymede Perspectives, 72 pp., January 2009, 978 1 906732 10 3
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... elite by its diversity and, as a response to the demand for equality, far from being left-wing politics, it is right-wing politics. The recent furore over the arrest for ‘disorderly conduct’ of HenryLouisGates helps make this clear. Gates, as one of his Harvard colleagues said, is ‘a famous, wealthy and important black man’, a point Gates himself tried to make to the arresting officer – ...
31 October 1996
Adventures on the Freedom Road: The French Intellectuals in the 20th Century 
by Bernard-Henri Lévy, translated by Richard Veasey.
Harvill, 434 pp., £20, December 1995, 1 86046 035 6
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The Imaginary Jew 
by Alain Finkielkraut, translated by Kevin O’Neill and David Suchoff.
Nebraska, 230 pp., £23.95, August 1994, 0 8032 1987 3
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The Defeat of the Mind 
by Alain Finkielkraut, translated by Judith Friedlander.
Columbia, 165 pp., $15, May 1996, 0 231 08023 9
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... not stood in the way of an American version.) According to Suchoff, Finkielkraut is no Allan Bloom or Arthur Schlesinger: ‘far from a neoconservative’, he is, rather, a pluralist in the vein of HenryLouisGates, and his reflections on the differences between the terms ‘Israelite’ and ‘Jew’ find an echo in the American opposition between ‘Black’ and ‘African-American’. Suchoff ...

Like What Our Peasants Still Are

Landeg White: Afrocentrism

13 May 1999
Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes 
by Stephen Howe.
Verso, 337 pp., £22, June 1998, 1 85984 873 7
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... 1969, when a self-elected black caucus threatened some delegates with assault. But he doesn’t identify any lasting damage to scholarship, least of all to the work of serious black scholars such as HenryLouisGates, Paul Gilroy, Manning Marable and Cornel West (to pick names at random). Though a few of the books he describes are undeniably nasty in their anti-semitic and psychosexual bigotry, he ...

Nutty Professors

Hal Foster: ‘Lingua Franca’

8 May 2003
Quick Studies: The Best of ‘Lingua Franca’ 
edited by Alexander Star.
Farrar, Straus, 514 pp., $18, September 2002, 0 374 52863 2
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... public sphere in exile, and from this perspective the public intellectual might seem less moribund than reborn, especially in the case of scholars from racial minorities (black intellectuals such as HenryLouisGates and Cornel West are not considered in Quick Studies, and post-colonial theorists such as Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak are mostly dismissed). Finally, the PC Battles were indeed lost by ...

Leave them weeping

Colin Grant: Frederick Douglass

1 August 2019
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom 
by David Blight.
Simon and Schuster, 892 pp., £30, November 2018, 978 1 4165 9031 6
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... told her that I had had no food since morning.’ In the Narrative, Douglass wrote that ‘My father was my master.’ Ten years later he said his father might have been a mulatto. In other words, as HenryLouisGates put it, Douglass ‘completely diminished the whiteness and the masterness of his father over ten years’. In his 1854 essay ‘The Claims of the Negro, Ethnologically Considered ...
2 March 2000
Juneteenth 
by Ralph Ellison, edited by John Callaghan.
Hamish Hamilton, 368 pp., £16.99, December 1999, 0 241 14084 6
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... to two of his friends, Albert Murray and the critic Anatole Broyard. Ellison had good reason to feel troubled. Juneteenth is a set of fragments masquerading as a whole – a Frankenstein’s monster, Louis Menand called it in the New York Times – and the simple plot line that Callahan imposes for unifying effect violates the form Ellison imagined and failed to achieve in this disparate, untitled ...

Loaded Dice

Thomas Chatterton Williams: Ta-Nehisi Coates

3 December 2015
Between the World and Me 
by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Text, 152 pp., £10.99, September 2015, 978 1 925240 70 2
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... pronouncements about their world, about my world, and about the world itself. My life was delineated [on] lists like ‘Geniuses of Western Music’ written by people who evidently believed Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin did not exist. That tradition continues. Dylan Byers knows nothing of your work, and therefore your work must not exist. Here is the machinery of racism – the ...

Pastiche

Norman Stone

21 July 1983
The Invention of Tradition 
edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger.
Cambridge, 320 pp., £17.50, March 1983, 0 521 24645 8
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... arrived drunk, took the wrong places and, in some cases, giggled throughout the ceremony – George IV’s coronation being all the more preposterous for the hammering of his ex-wife-to-be at the gates. In those days, there was much anti-royal sentiment, and what appeared to be tradition was richly scoffed at: an English cartoon of the French Restoration contained the legend, ‘Son of Saint Louis ...

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