Gerald Early

Interim Director of the Center for the Study of Race
Professor of English and of African and African-American Studies

(On sabbatical Fall '23)
​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. 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.   

    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