Penguin Random House: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Series to Celebrate Black Thinkers and Artists

This week Penguin Press announced a new series, Significations, to be created and curated by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in which important writers and thinkers reckon with the life, work and significance of a range of essential Black American figures. The New York Times heralded the news with a feature article, From Henry Louis Gates Jr., Another Scholarly Megaproject by Jennifer Schuessler.

Significations is a play on the African-American tradition of wordplay known as “signifying” (and recalls Gates’s 1988 book, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism). Each book in the series will be about 40,000 words, with the first title expected to be published in early 2023. The author/subject pairings include Glenda Carpio on Ishmael Reed, Roxane Gay on Beyoncé, Farah Griffin on Toni Morrison, Tiya Miles on Harriet Tubman, Imani Perry on Stevie Wonder, and Brandon Terry on Malcolm X.

Dr. Gates, known as Skip to close friends and colleagues, told The New York Times, “The idea is to establish a baseline of intellectual reflection on the achievements of creative writers and seminal thinkers who have one thing in common, which is that they happen to be quote-unquote Black in various ways. My goal is for these thinkers and creative artists to become part of the world’s canon.”

Penguin Press Publisher Scott Moyers will be the in-house series editor, and commented, “To state the obvious, a great series is a collection of great books. What’s thrilling to me is the magic of the marriage of author and subject, and the almost sacred trust Skip has given each author to find his or her own best approach. And I think Skip has been so successful at recruiting such a dazzling group of artists and scholars to this banner in no small part because they are so unburdened by a tiresomely uniform framework. Quite the opposite, they’re invited to put their own unique stamp on their subjects, to arrive at their own original forms to best make the significance of these subjects sing. That freedom can be a little scary, but in the hands of authors as great as these, it’s mostly exhilarating.”

For the Significations series, Dr. Gates has brought together a stellar list of esteemed authors and subjects, including:

Anthony Appiah on Frantz Fanon
Lawrence Bobo on William Julius Wilson
Daphne Brooks on Tina Turner
Glenda Carpio on Ishmael Reed
Jelani Cobb on Derrick Bell
Nell Irwin Painter on Sojourner Truth
Roxane Gay on Beyoncé
Anthony Davis on Charles Mingus
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on W.E.B. DuBois
Paul Gilroy on Bob Marley
Jacqueline Goldsby on James Weldon Johnson
Farah Griffin on Toni Morrison
Evelyn Higginbotham on John Hope Franklin
Matthew Jacobson on Dick Gregory
Jamaica Kincaid on Derek Walcott
Jesse McCarthy on Ralph Ellison
Tiya Miles on Harriet Tubman
Imani Perry on Stevie Wonder
Wole Soyinka on Leopold Senghor
Hollis Robbins on Robert Hayden
Noliwe Rooks on Mary McLeod Bethune
Tricia Rose on Marvin Gaye
Bill Schwartz on Stuart Hall
Tommie Shelby on Richard Wright
Tracy K. Smith on Lucille Clifton
Brandon Terry on Malcolm X
Salamishah Tillet on Toni Cade Bambara

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