UW-Madison: Harvard’s Gates to deliver McKay Lecture in the Humanities

CONTACT: Sara Guyer, 608-262-4970, [email protected]

MADISON – Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. will give the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s annual Nellie Y. McKay Lecture in the Humanities at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 24, at Mills Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building as part of the campuswide Go Big Read initiative.

Gates will delve into the issues aired in his PBS documentary “African American Lives,” which showed the ways in which African Americans are using genealogy and genetic science to understand their history.

Go Big Read brought author Rebecca Skloot in October to discuss her book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Skloot’s book is a cautionary tale about how science used a woman’s body without permission. Gates will show how advances in science are helping African Americans unlock their past.

The Nellie Y. McKay Lecture in the Humanities was established in honor of the Evjue Professor of American and African-American Literature at UW-Madison and pioneer in the field of Afro-American studies, who died in 2006. Gates and McKay co-edited the “Norton Anthology of African American Literature.”

“Nellie McKay was one of the great literary scholars – at UW-Madison and in the nation. We are thrilled that Professor Gates accepted our invitation to speak in her honor and also to participate in the yearlong Go Big Read program that fosters dialogue between and among faculty, students, staff, alumni and members of the general community,” says Sara Guyer, director of the Center for the Humanities, a co-sponsor of the talk.

Gates is director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. His accomplishments include:

– Producer of several PBS documentaries, including the “African American Lives” series “America Beyond the Color Line” and “Wonders of the African World”

– A memoir, “Colored People,” which traces Gates’ childhood experiences in a small West Virginia town in the 1950s and 1960s and foundational works in literary criticism, including “The Signifying Monkey”

– Co-author, with Cornel West, of “The Future of the Race”

– Co-editor of an eight-volume set, the “African American National Biography,” containing more than 4,000 biographical entries on both well-known and obscure African Americans

– Biweekly guest columnist for The New York Times.

Gates’ talk will also usher in the March 25 Conference on the Public Humanities, says Guyer. This conference showcases how humanities scholars are changing lives in communities around the world.

“Professor Gates is probably the most well-known public intellectual in the U.S.,” says Guyer. “He is a literary critic by training and profession, and yet through his audience reaches far beyond the university.”