We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Success! You're on the list.


Henry Louis Gates Jr. is one of the leaders in a new school of academics that includes bell hooks, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, and other alleged mind-benders. The new public intellectuals, they’re often called. Unfortunately, many of them seem unable to reconcile the two. At times the crew will be public but not very intellectual, and other times they’ll be intellectual (well, sort of) but not very public. Gates is a literary scholar and a formidable one at that. His new book, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, is a series of portraits of 13 figures from Louis Farrakhan to Albert Murray. It tries to do away with a monolithic image of black men; as the jacket asserts, “the notion of the unitary black man, Gates argues, is as imaginary as the creature that the poet Wallace Stevens conjured in his poem ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.’” A good idea, I guess. But it’s accepted that while groups often have commonalities, they are almost never monolithic. The fact that black scholars have of late gone to such extremes to argue a truism says more about them than it does about the straw-man position they attack. Those who have a unitary image of black men probably won’t be reading this book. In fact many who don’t have a unitary image of black men won’t be reading this book. You can count me among them. At 6 p.m. at Vertigo Books, 1337 Connecticut Ave. NW. FREE. (202) 429-9272. (Ta-Nehisi Coates)