Gerald Early

Professor of English and of African & African American Studies

​Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters
PhD, Cornell University
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    contact info:

    office hours:

    • ​By Appointment

    mailing address:

    • 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. 

    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 was most recently the interim director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Equity (2022-2023). He was previously the chair of the African and African American Studies Department (2014-2021).  He is also the executive editor of The Common Reader, Washington University’s interdisciplinary journal published under the auspices of the Provost’s office

    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 also authorizes Daughters: On Family and Fatherhood (1994). 

    His 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).  Early is an elected American Academy of Arts and Sciences fellow and has been honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

     

    42 Today

    42 Today

    Before the United States Supreme Court ruled against segregation in public schools, and before Rosa Parks refused to surrender her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, Jackie Robinson walked onto the diamond on April 15, 1947, as first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, making history as the first African American to integrate Major League Baseball in the twentieth century. Today a national icon, Robinson was a complicated man who navigated an even more complicated world that both celebrated and despised him. 

    Many are familiar with Robinson as a baseball hero. Few, however, know of the inner turmoil that came with his historic status. Featuring piercing essays from a range of distinguished sportswriters, cultural critics, and scholars, this book explores Robinson’s perspectives and legacies on civil rights, sports, faith, youth, and nonviolence, while providing rare glimpses into the struggles and strength of one of the nation’s most athletically gifted and politically significant citizens. Edited by noted Robinson scholar Michael G. Long, and featuring a foreword by celebrated directors and producers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, this volume recasts Jackie Robinson’s legacy and establishes how he set a precedent for future civil rights activism, from Black Lives Matter to Colin Kaepernick.

    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.

    In his first new collection of sports essays since Tuxedo Junction (1989), the noted cultural critic Gerald Early investigates these contradictions as they play out in the sports world and in our deeper attitudes toward the athletes we glorify. Early addresses a half-century of heated cultural issues ranging from integration to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Writing about Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood, he reconstructs pivotal moments in their lives and explains how the culture, politics, and economics of sport turned with them. Taking on the subtexts, racial and otherwise, of the controversy over remarks Rush Limbaugh made about quarterback Donovan McNabb, Early restores the political consequence to an event most commentators at the time approached with predictable bluster.

    The essays in this book circle around two perennial questions: What other, invisible contests unfold when we watch a sporting event? What desires and anxieti