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Mon, 04.21.1952

Gerald Early, Essayist born

Gerald Early

*Gerald Early was born on this date in 1952. He is a Black essayist and American culture critic.

Gerald Lyn Early was born in Philadelphia, the son of Henry Early and Florence Fernandez Oglesby. His father, a baker, died when Early was nine months old, leaving his mother, a preschool teacher, to raise him and his two sisters on her own. Living in a poor area of the city, Early grew up befriending members of the Fifth and the South Street gangs, though he never became a member himself.

Instead, he focused on academic pursuits, graduating cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974. During Early's undergraduate years, he was introduced to the writings of Amiri Baraka and later credited the poet and playwright with influencing his work. Early developed much of his writing style through involvement with the university newspaper. Ironically, his first major piece was a journalistic foray into the gang-related murder of a cousin.

After earning his B.A., Early returned to Philadelphia, where he became employed by the city government. On August 27, 1977, Early married Ida Haynes, a college administrator. They have two children, Linnet Kristen Haynes Early and Rosalind Lenora Haynes Early. He also spent six months monitoring gang activities through the Crisis Intervention Network before resuming his course work at Cornell University, where he eventually earned a doctorate in English literature in 1982.

Early landed his first teaching job as an assistant professor of Black Studies at St. Louis's Washington University in 1982. He would steadily rise to a full professorship in both the English and the renamed African and Afro-American studies departments by 1990.

He is currently the Merle Kling Professor of Modern letters, of English, African studies, African American studies, American culture studies, and Director, Center for Joint Projects in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He also served as a consultant on Ken Burns' documentary films BaseballJazz, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, and The War. He is a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Fresh Air. His essays have appeared in numerous editions of the Best American Essays series.

He writes on topics as diverse as American literature, the Korean War, African American culture, Afro American autobiography, non-fiction prose, baseball, jazz, prizefighting, Motown, Miles Davis, Muhammad Ali, and Sammy Davis Jr.

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