Professor and educator Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. was born on September 16, 1950, in Keyser, West Virginia. Gates excelled as a student, graduating from Yale University in 1973 with a degree in history. He continued his education at Clare College, which is part of the University of Cambridge in England. He finished his doctorate degree in 1979, making him the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. from the university.
In the 1980s, Gates became known as a leading scholar of African-American literature, history, and culture. He built his reputation in part on his talents as a researcher. At the start of the decade, he began working on the Black Periodical Literature Project, which uncovered lost literary works published in 1800s. Gates received a grant from the prestigious MacArthur Foundation in 1981, which helped support his scholarship in African-American literature. He had rediscovered what is believed to be the first novel published by an African-American in the United States. Gates republished the 1859 work by Harriet E. Wilson, entitled Our Nig, in 1983.
Gates served an editor on several anthologies and collections of African-American literature and contributed to the field of literary theory with such works as Black Literature and Literary Theory (1984) and The Signifying Monkey: Towards a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988). In 1991, Gates became the head of the African-American studies department at Harvard University. He is credited with transforming the school's African American studies program.
Gates is now the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at the university. Gates has been involved in a number of interesting educational projects for television. He wrote and produced: Wonders of the African World (2000), America Beyond the Color Line (2004) and African American Lives (2006). Gates has plans for more documentaries, including a documentary special on the heritage of talk show host Oprah Winfrey and a sequel to African American Lives.