West, Cornel

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West, Cornel

June 2, 1953

Cornell Ronald West, an educator, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and received an M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton. He taught at Union Seminary, Yale, the University of Paris, and Princeton, where he was director of the Afro-American Studies Program. In 1994 he moved to Harvard, where he took a position as Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor.

West is one of the leading contemporary African-American intellectuals and activists at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The author or editor of more than fifteen books, he is also a popular public speaker. West's work ranges over the fields of philosophy, literature, religion, music, and black history, and focuses on social thought, cultural and political criticism, modern philosophy, and issues of social justice. West has deep roots in the Baptist church, the source of his preaching style. His intellectual foundation combines democratic socialism, Christian compassion, the modernity of Franz Kafka, and black music. His intellectual heroes include Anton Chekhov and John Coltrane.

A list of his books begins with professional works of scholarship, such as The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Generation of Pragmatism (1989) and The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought (1991). West became a national figure with Race Matters (1993), a collection of essays that made the best-seller list. His later books, Keeping Faith (1993) and Restoring Hope (1997), were followed by a large compendium of his work, The Cornel Reader (1999). With Jack Salzman and David Lionel Smith, he coedited the first edition of the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. He has also edited two books dealing with black-Jewish relations: Jews and Blacks: A Dialogue on Race, Religion and Culture in America (with Michael Lerner), and Struggles in the Promised Land: Toward a History of Black-Jewish Relations (with Jack Salzman), 1997. West made his first major foray into national politics during the 2000 presidential primaries when he worked for Democrat Bill Bradley as an adviser and as cochair of Bradley's Massachusetts campaign.

After a falling out with Harvard president Lawrence Summers in 2002, West left Harvard for Princeton University.

See also Black Studies; Intellectual Life


Emerge, March 1993.

Hooks, Bell, and Cornel West. Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life. Boston, Mass.: South End Press, 1991.

West, Cornel. The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

richard newman (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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West, Cornel