Gerald Early

Gerald Early

Interim Director of the Center for the Study of Race
Professor of English and of African and African-American Studies
​Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters
PhD, Cornell University
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    • Washington University
      Campus Box 1098-0137-02
      One Brookings Drive
      St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    ​Professor Early is an award-winning essayist, author, and editor. He has served as a commentator for NPR and as a consultant for multiple documentaries with Ken Burns. Currently, Early is finishing a book about Fisk University.

    Gerald Early is the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters in the African and African American Studies Department at Washington University in St. Louis, where he has taught since 1982.  He also has courtesy appointment in the American Culture Studies Programs and the English Department at Washington University.  He earned his undergraduate degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania and the Ph.D. in English and American literature from Cornell University.

    He is currently the chair of the African and African American Studies Department.  He had previously served as director of the African and African American Studies Program from 1992-1999.  He has also served as the director of the American Culture Studies Program, and was the founding director of the Center for the Humanities at Washington University.  He is also the executive editor of The Common Reader, Washington University’s new interdisciplinary journal that is published under the auspices of the Provost.  From 2009-2012, Early served on the advisory committee for tenure, promotion, and personnel for the School of Arts and Sciences.

    Early is a noted essayist and American culture critic. His collections of essays include Tuxedo Junction: Essays on American Culture (1989); The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture, which won the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism; This is Where I Came In: Essays on Black America in the 1960s (2003), and, most recently, A Level-Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports (2011). He is also the author of Daughters: On Family and Fatherhood (1994).  He was twice nominated for Grammy Awards for writing album liner notes, of which Early has written many including Black Power: Music of a Revolution (2004), Miles Davis, Kind of Blue: 50th Anniversary (2009), Q: The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones (2001), Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection, (2007), Motown: The Complete Motown Singles, Volume 2: 1962, The Sammy Davis Jr. Story, (1999), and Rhapsodies in Black: Music and Words from the Harlem Renaissance (2000).

    Additionally, Early is a prolific anthologist. He launched the Best African American Essays 2010 with guest editor Randall Kennedy and Best African American Fiction 2010 with guest editor Nikki Giovanni.  Both were part of the annual Best African American Essays and Best African American Fiction series published by Bantam Books for which Early served as the series editor during the life of the series. His other anthologies include The Cambridge Companion to Boxing (2019); Approaches to Teaching Baraka’s Dutchman (2018, with Matthew Calihman); The Sammy Davis, Jr. Reader (2001); Miles Davis and American Culture (2001); The Muhammad Ali Reader (1998); Ain’t But a Place: An Anthology of African American Writings About St. Louis (1998): and Body Language: Writers on Sport (1998). He has served as a consultant on several Ken Burns' documentary films—Baseball; Jazz; The Tenth Inning; Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson; The War, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, and Jackie Robinson—all of which have aired on PBS.  Early is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He has served or is currently serving on a number of non-profit boards in St. Louis including the Missouri History Museum, the Foundation Board of the St. Louis Public Library, Jazz St. Louis, and the Whitaker Foundation.  He served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Humanities Center where he enjoyed an appointment as the John Hope Franklin Fellow in 2001-2002.  He was nominated by President Obama to serve on the National Council on the Humanities, was confirmed by the Senate and began his five-term in August 2013.  He was awarded a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2013.

    He is completing a book with his daughter, Rosalind, a professional writer and editor, about an African American festival in Philadelphia called Odunde, one of the largest black street festivals in the country and the biggest public event for adherents of the Yoruba religion in the United States.  His longer term projects include a study of the Korean War and a book about conservatism in the United States.   

    The Cambridge Companion to Boxing

    The Cambridge Companion to Boxing

    While humans have used their hands to engage in combat since the dawn of man, boxing originated in Ancient Greece as an Olympic event. It is one of the most popular, controversial and misunderstood sports in the world. For its advocates, it is a heroic expression of unfettered individualism. For its critics, it is a depraved and ruthless physical and commercial exploitation of mostly poor young men. This Companion offers engaging and informative essays about the social impact and historical importance of the sport of boxing. It includes a comprehensive chronology of the sport, listing all the important events and personalities. Essays examine topics such as women in boxing, boxing and the rise of television, boxing in Africa, boxing and literature, and boxing and Hollywood films. A unique book for scholars and fans alike, this Companion explores the sport from its inception in Ancient Greece to the death of its most celebrated figure, Muhammad Ali.

    The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture

    The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture

    "An essay must do more than say something," writes Gerald Early; "It must be something in its own right." The Culture of Bruising is Gerald Early's long-awaited sequel to his award-winning first volume of essays Tuxedo Junction and, in the same spirit, he explores not only a variety of subjects but the form of the essay itself.


    Early's cultural ruminations on the sport of prize-fighting form the intellectual core and central metaphor of this book. That is to say, his subject, when writing about boxing, is not just the culture of bruising or the world of the prizefighter but rather the culture as bruising - as a structure of opposition against the individual.


    Early's subjects range far and wide - essays in which he shares with us his considerable insights and expertise on such various subjects as multiculturalism and Black History Month, baseball, racist memorabilia, performance magic and race, Malcolm X, early jazz music, and finally, the raising of daughters. In every essay the form strengthens the content and gracefully balances the elements of research and opinion. Early becomes by turns the critic, skeptic, autobiographer, biographer, storyteller, cultural and literary scholar, detached citizen, and bemused parent. He integrates these voices with the skill of an accomplished choirmaster.


    The Culture of Bruising is an important and captivating collection of essays that treats issues of justice and racism in the context of sports, music, and other activities Americans value most. Early is a vigilant and highly sensitive observer of our culture, a culture based on the paradoxical combination of self-destruction and violence with personal empowerment and triumph.

    The Muhammad Ali Reader

    The Muhammad Ali Reader

    Muhammad Ali—arguably the finest athlete of the twentieth century and incontestably one of the most famous Americans of his time—is known the world over, not only for his boxing prowess, but for his rebellious courage and resilience against controversy. He has been both underdog and champion, villain and prince, playboy and staunch Muslim, exalted American and punished conscientious objector. He was the ultimate athlete—Heavyweight Champion of the World—and today confronts the physical debilitations of Parkinson's disease.

    A one-of-a-kind volume, The Muhammad Ali Reader collects more than thirty of the best writings about this boxing legend in an incredible anthology by the greatest about The Greatest. This is the amazing story of Muhammad Ali—and the world's reaction to him—told by a stellar array of authors, athletes, and social commentators. Floyd Patterson defends Ali's right to criticize America's participation in the Vietnam War; Malcolm X explains how Ali went from "entertainer" to "threat" with his declaration as "a man of race"; Ali himself shares some intimate and definitive thoughts in a Playboy magazine interview; and Gay Talese gives us a front seat on a ride to Cuba, where Ali meets up with Fidel Castro.

    Organized by decade, chapters begin with a few opening remarks by Ali himself, and a spectacular sixteen-page photo insert captures The Champ in all his guises. With an introduction by Gerald Early, one of the finest contemporary writers on boxing, The Muhammad Ali Reader confirms Ali's standing as one of the most controversial and charismatic Americans of our time.

    This Is Where I Came In: Black America in the 1960s

    This Is Where I Came In: Black America in the 1960s

    The fascinating and turbulent black America of the 1960s emerges in these essays, through the lenses of dissent and its contradictions. Gerald L. Early revisits this volatile time in American history, when class, culture, and race ignited conflagrations of bitterness and hatred across the nation.

    One Nation Under A Groove: Motown and American Culture

    One Nation Under A Groove: Motown and American Culture

    In its heyday Motown Records was a household word, one of the most famous and successful black-owned businesses in American history, and, arguably, the most significant of all American independent record labels.

     

    A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports

    A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports

    As Americans, we believe there ought to be a level playing field for everyone. Even if we don’t expect to finish first, we do expect a fair start. Only in sports have African Americans actually found that elusive level ground. But at the same time, black players offer an ironic perspective on the athlete-hero, for they represent a group historically held to be without social honor.