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Henry Louis Gates Jr Biography

(1950– ), Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the Racial Self

black literary american theory

African-American critic, born in Keyser in West Virginia, educated at Yale and at Cambridge University where his tutor was Wole Soyinka. He became Professor of English at Duke University. Gates has contributed significantly to the increased accessibility of African-American writings, especially of the pre-twentieth-century period. In Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the Racial Self (1987), Black Letters and the Enlightenment: On Race, Writing and Difference (1986), and The Signifying Monkey: Towards a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988), he explores the distinctive nature of black writing by looking to the linguistic and musical feature of black culture, especially the ritual function of language in black tradition. Gates's interest in literary theory seeks to evaluate the most appropriate theoretical approach to black writing. He explores literary expression in Africa and the Caribbean as well as America in the monographs The History and Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism, 1773–1881 (1978), Black Literature and Literary Theory (1984), The Essential Soyinka (1991), Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars (1992), and Colored People (1993).

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