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Skip Gates is a literary critic, educator, scholar, writer, editor, and public intellectual. He currently serves as the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities and Professor of English at Harvard University, where he is the Chair of the African and African American Studies and the Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Raised in the mill town of Piedmont, West Virginia, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who initially enrolled at Potomac State Community College, transferred as an undergraduate to Yale University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in History.

The first African-American to be awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, the day after his undergraduate commencement, Gates set sail on the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 for the University of Cambridge, where he discovered English Literature at Clare College and, with the assistance of a Ford Foundation Fellowship, worked toward his MA and PhD in English.

After a month at Yale Law School, Gates dropped out and in October 1975 was hired by John W. Blassingame as a secretary in the Afro-American Studies department at Yale; in July 1976, Gates was promoted to the post of Lecturer in Afro-American Studies with the understanding that he would be promoted to Assistant Professor upon completion of his dissertation. Jointly appointed to assistant professorships in English and Afro-American Studies in 1979, Gates was promoted to Associate Professor in 1984. Denied tenure at Yale in favor of distinguished literary critic Robert Stepto, Gates taught at Cornell University from 1985 to 1990, and then spent a year at Duke University before moving on to his current position at Harvard University in 1991.

At Harvard, Gates teaches undergraduate and graduate courses as the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities and as Professor of English; he additionally serves as Chair of the African and African American Studies and the Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research.