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Dyson, Michael Eric 1958–

Michael Eric Dyson 1958

Educator, writer

Young Spirit Tainted by Racism

Religion Led to Education and Culture

Wrote on Malcolm Xs Life and Lessons

Explored Gangsta Rap in Academia

Rose Through Academic and Literary Worlds

Selected writings

Sources

Hailed as one of a group of new intellectuals, scholar Michael Eric Dyson is a longtime professor and lecturer, and an author who addresses issues of race and culture in such diverse publications as Christian Century and Rolling Stone. He has published seven books, including the well-received Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X and I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. He has also appeared on popular talk shows, taught academic courses on gangsta rap and hip-hop music, and even testified before congressional subcommittees on various issues of concern to black Americans. Washington Post correspondent David Nicholson noted that Dyson belongs to a group of young intellectuals who may yet define our view of black American culture as did their predecessors Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray.

Young is an important operating word when describing Dyson. Most professors do not become nationally known while still in their thirties, nor do they often head university departments at that age. Dyson did both while still in his mid-thirties, due in part to the success of his books and the strength of his journalism. Philadelphia Inquirer book critic Carlo Romano called Dyson a crown prince to the two most established black male intellectuals: [Cornel] West and scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Young Spirit Tainted by Racism

Born on October 23, 1958, in Detroit, Michigan, Dyson grew up in a comfortable middle class family. His father was an auto worker, his mother a para-professional in the city schools. In a piece published in Details magazine, Dyson suggested that, due in large part to his age, he was somewhat isolated from the bitter civil rights struggles that occurred in the 1960s. I was nine years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. died, he said. I had never heard of him before then. I remember a newscaster interrupted the regular programming and broke the news. My father, sitting in his chair, went Hmph. A hmph that said both I cant believe it and How predictable. That was my initiation into the world of white and black.

Dyson was an active youngster and early on he developed his oratorical skills by delivering speeches to the members of the Baptist church he attended. When Dyson was a teenager, a well-meaning neighbor gave

At a Glance

Born on October 23, 1958, in Detroit, Ml; son of Everett (an auto worker) and Addie (an aide in the public schools) Dyson; married second wife, Marcia Louise, June 24, 1992; children: Michael II, Maisha. Education: Carson-Newman College, BA (magna cum laude), 1982; Princeton University, MA, 1991, PhD, 1993.

Career: Preacher and minister, various Baptist churches; Chicago Theological Seminary, instructor, later assistant professor, c. 1989-92; Brown University, Providence, RI, assistant professor, c. 1993-95; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, c. 1995-97; Columbia University, visiting distinguished professor, 1997-99; DePaul University, Chicago, IL, Ida B. Wells-Barnett University professor, 1999-2002; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, Avalon Foundation professor, 2002-.

Member: Democratic Socialist Society of America.

Awards: National Magazine Award, National Association of Black Journalists, 1992.

Address: Office c/o College Office, 120 Logan Hall, 249 South 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6304.

him a full set of the Harvard Classics. This standard literature of mostly white European authors may not sound like preferred reading for a black teenager, but Dyson devoured the whole set. I was reading Two Years before the Mast and also getting my [link to black culture through black musicians like] Smokey Robinson, he joked in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Dyson even earned a scholarship to a well-known and respected boarding school in Michigan. Everything seemed to be falling into place for Dyson, but that all changed once he actually arrived at boarding school at the age of 16.

At school Dyson first discovered that he had been living a life of segregation. All of the schools and clubs he had ever belonged to had been made up of African Americans, and he had had very little contact with people of other ethnic backgrounds, especially those with white skin. It wasnt long before Dyson began to feel uncomfortable around his classmates, who treated him poorly, often wrecked his dorm room and possessions, and used racial slurs when referring to him. According to Dyson in an Americas Intelligence Wire article, It was very jarring to me, like a sense of Hitchcockian Vertigo. Dyson began to lash out against other students and the boarding school in general, and it was not long before he was expelled.

Dyson returned to public high school and graduated in 1976, but by that time he had become a teenage father-to-be and was living off the welfare system. His responsibilities to his yet-unborn child led him to accept a series of jobs in maintenance and auto sales, but he lost his employment just weeks before his sons birth. Dyson also was known on the streets as a hustler and a gang member, and it seemed as if this lifestyle, a style he blamed on racism, was going to be prevalent throughout the rest of his life.

Religion Led to Education and Culture

Through everything, Dyson continued to attend his Baptist church and, along with religion, he slowly began to rediscover his love of oratory. With the assistance of his church pastor, Dyson studied and became a Baptist minister by the time he was 21. Along with taking on the new title of minister came an increased appreciation of his responsibilities. According to Dyson in Americas Intelligence Wire, his quest for education came about because I needed to have a better future for my son. He traveled south to Tennessees Knoxville College to attend divinity school, and later transferred to Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee, where he earned a bachelors degree with high honors in 1982.

After doing his undergraduate work, Dyson began to hone another of his talents, and took up employment as a freelance journalist. This was in part to improve his writing, but it was also a way for him to raise money to help his younger brother, who had gone to prison in the early 1980s for second-degree murder. He worked for numerous magazines and newspapers, his specialty being African-American popular culture and music. Three years later he began his career in academia by accepting a graduate fellowship at Princeton University. While he was completing his masters and doctoral degrees he also taught at Princeton, as well as at Hartford Seminary and Chicago Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. in 1993.

Although many scholars distance themselves from popular culture, Dyson chose to focus on topics of interest to mainstream readers. With three years of experience in journalism after his undergraduate work, he became a regular contributor of record reviews to Rolling Stone, a popular columnist for Christian Century and The Nation, and reviewed books and films for newspapers. His first book-length collection of essays, Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism, was a collection of many of his articles, including pieces on racism in the seminary, filmmaker Spike Lee, entertainer Michael Jackson, sports star Michael Jordan, and black religious leaders as diverse as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. By addressing himself to some of pop cultures icons, Dyson noted in the book that he was attempting to resist the labored seductions of all narrow views of black life, whether they be racist, essentialist, or otherwise uncritically disposed toward African American culture.

Wrote on Malcolm Xs Life and Lessons

Dyson embarked on his book Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X after a confrontation with some of his black male students at Brown University, where he taught in the early 1990s. The students objected to the presence of whites in Dysons class on the radical Muslim leader, claiming that the whites discuss things they dont know about, especially Malcolm Xs life and philosophy. In response Dyson decided to write a comprehensive and critical examination of what [Malcolm X] said and did, so that his life and thought will be useful to future generations of peoples in struggle around the globe, according to the books introduction.

Making Malcolm was published in 1995, and the target audience was hardly just a group of ivory tower academicians. The books dust jacket included praiseworthy notices from figures such as Angela Davis, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, and rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy. Oxford University Press marketed the work through mainstream booksellers such as B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, recognizing that the audience for Making Malcolm would extend far beyond the scholarly community.

Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Natasha Tarpley declared that in Making Malcolm Dyson exhibits great respect, sensitivity and lovea balance Malcolm himself mastered. The critic added: Dyson assesses Malcolms role in the resurgent black nationalism(s) of this generations young black artists and students. [and] criticizes this generation for failing to learn Malcolms greatest lesson, that of self-criticism; for seeing only the parts of Malcolm, of ourselves, of our struggle that we want to see. In the Washington Post Book World, Salim Muwakkil praised Dyson for his willingness to embrace [Malcolm Xs] complexity, a quality that lifts this volume above those so far that have sought simply to shape Malcolms message to serve their particular passion. New Yorker correspondent Michael Berube concluded that Dyson gives us Malcolm as public moralistand a study that is as substantive and comprehensive as public cultural criticism of such a figure can hope to be.

Explored Gangsta Rap in Academia

In the wake of the reception for Making Malcolm, Dyson addressed another issue in the black community: the cultural significance of gangsta rap. Dyson began writing articles on artists such as NWA, Ice Cube, and his personal favorite, Tupac Shakur. Slowly, he gained a reputation as an authority on rap music, even being asked to testify about it before a congressional subcommittee and, according to the New Yorker, being lauded by Chuck D as a bad brother.

Dyson furthered his study into the world of rap with his third book, Between God and Gangsta Rap, in 1996. The purpose of the book, according to Dyson in the Wichita Eagle, was to put gangsta rap in its cultural and social perspective. Gangsta rap often reaches higher than its ugliest, lowest common denominator, he noted, adding that misogyny, violence, materialism and sexual transgression are not its exclusive domain. At its best, this music draws attention to complex dimensions of ghetto life ignored by most Americans. Indeed, gangsta raps in-your-face style may do more to force America to confront crucial social problems than a million sermons or political speeches.

Dyson also took gangsta rap into the classroom. He first tested the waters at the University of North Carolina, where he was a professor of communication studies and the head of the Institute for African-American research. He offered a class on the effects of gangsta rap on societal values, particularly within the African-American community. The class was an overwhelming success, and students fought to get in during every semester between 1995 and 1997, before Dyson left North Carolina to becoming a distinguished visiting professor at Columbia University. At Columbia he continued his trend of connecting gangsta rap with different facets of life, including religion, family and, to many peoples surprise, literature and poetry.

Rose Through Academic and Literary Worlds

Dysons reputation for intense cultural studies is not the only reason that many people in academia are familiar with his work. Many critics and readers also consider him a cutting-edge historian as well, one who has attempted to provide a critical intellectual perspective on historical figures who have attained iconic status within the black community and in society at large. Already starting down this path with Making Malcolm, Dyson began work on a book in the late 1990s on the public and private life of Martin Luther King Jr. In order to have time to write his new book, Dyson left Columbia University in 1999 to take on a post as the first Ida B. Wells-Barnett University professor at DePaul University in Chicago. With a lighter class load at DePaul, he was able to fully delve into the works, personal letters, and correspondence of Martin Luther King Jr. In 2000 he completed his research and published I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. The book offers critical insights into the literal and symbolic meanings of the life of [that] Southern preacher, civil rights leader, and public intellectual, according to an article in the Western Journal of Black Studies. The same article added that Dyson takes issue with ideological constructions of King which reduce his memory to a selective reading of the I Have a Dream speech. Dyson contends that focusing on the speech has often obscured the radicalism of Kings activism disconnecting him from the vibrancy and vitality of his sustained revolt against segregation and other social evils, according to the Western Journal of Black Studies. Dyson concludes that by knowing history as it actually was, each person can explore why Dr. King put forth the messages that he did, and choose for themselves how effective his methods were, as well as explore the meanings behind his messages.

In 2001 Dyson published a book on the life of rapper Tupac Shakur titled, Hollar if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur. Instead of using the traditional biographical format to explore the life of the gangsta rapper, Dyson employs a series of essays on topics such as family relations, street violence, education, and religion to explore the world that Shakur has created through his lyrics and his public image. Much like his university courses, Dysons book on Shakur is intended to educate the general public on the importance of hip-hop and gangsta music, not only in understanding black culture, but American culture as well.

In 2002 Dyson accepted a position as an Avalon Foundation professor in the humanities and African-American studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he refined and focused his teachings on gangsta rap and moved into hip-hop music as well. At the University of Pennsylvania he taught a class dealing with the life and lyrics of Tupac Shakur, examining how Shakurs image and presence changed the way listeners perceived his messages on issues such as family, religion, and violence. Courses such as this are very important to Dyson. As he told Americas Intelligence Wire, they attempt to create a bridge between two generations that will connect civil rights identity to hip-hop culture and forge a connection between older and younger Americans, especially black Americans.

Dyson continued to publish new books, including Open Mike: Reflections on Philosophy, Race, Sex, Culture and Religion in 2002 and, in 2003, Why I Love Black Women, a work extolling the virtues of African-American women. The success of his books has led to increased visibility for Dyson, who has appeared on talk shows and at book signings in many American cities. Berube included Dyson when he wrote in the New Yorker about a generation of African American intellectuals [whose] work has become a fixture of mall bookstores, talk shows, elite universities, and black popular culture. Berube added: Plainly, they have consolidated the gains of the civil-rights and Black Power movements in at least this regard: they have the ability and the resources to represent themselves in public on their own terms. Robert S. Boynton, in an Atlantic Monthly essay, felt that Dyson is part of an impressive group of African American writers and thinkers [who] have emerged to revive and revitalize [the role of the public intellectual]. They are bringing moral imagination and critical intelligence to bear on the definingly American matter of raceand reaching beyond race to voice what one calls the commonality of American concern.

Reflecting on his current position as a man of letters and sought-after commentator, Dyson told the Philadelphia Inquirer, I have to constantly negotiate the tension between past neighborhood and present neighborhood. He added that his success is affirming, of course, but it also feels awkward. I think of myself as a Trojan Horse. I dont have an earring in my nose or ear. I dont have my hair combed back in a ponytail, or rough-hewn. I look like an insider. But theres a whole lot of Negroes inside of me. Theres a whole lot of black men inside of me. And when I get in somewhere, I let them out.

Selected writings

Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism, University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Between God and Gangsta Rap, Oxford University Press, 1995.

Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line, Addison-Wesley, 1996.

I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr., Free Press, 2000.

Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, Basic Civitas, 2001.

Open Mike: Reflection on Philosophy, Race, Sex, Culture, and Religion, Basic Civitas, 2002.

Why I Love Black Women, Basic Civitas, 2003.

Sources

Books

Dyson, Michael Eric, introduction to Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Dyson, Michael Eric, introduction to Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism, University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Periodicals

American Vision, August 1999, p. 8.

Americas Intelligence Wire, January 29, 2002.

Atlantic Monthly, March 1995, pp. 53-70.

Black Issues Book Review, January-February 2003, pp. 52-53.

Details, October 1995, pp. 162-167, 189.

Jet, June 17, 2002, pp. 22-23.

Journal of American Ethnic History, Fall 1998, pp. 103-108.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 26,1995, p. 4.

New Republic, October 22, 2001, pp. 30-37.

New Yorker, January 9, 1995, pp. 73-80.

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 12, 1995, pp. 1F, 5F.

Washington Post, October 12, 1993, p. 3C.

Washington Post Book World, December 18, 1994, p. 11.

Western Journal of Black Studies, Winter 2001, pp. 240-244.

Wichita Eagle, July 2, 1995, p. 19A.

Mark Kram and Ralph G. Zerbonia

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Dyson, Michael Eric 1958—

Michael Eric Dyson 1958

Educator, writer

At a Glance

Studied in Tennessee, New Jersey

Making Malcolm Reached Wide Audience

Among the New Intellectuals

Selected writings

Sources

Hailed as one of a group of new intellectuals, Michael Eric Dyson is a scholar based at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Dyson, who heads the universitys Institute of African American Research, is an author who addresses issues of race and culture in such diverse publications as Christian Century and Rolling Stone. He has published three full-length books, including the well-received Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. He has also lectured from the college podium, appeared on popular talk shows, and even testified before congressional subcommittees on various issues of concern to black Americans. Washington Post correspondent David Nicholson noted that Dyson belongs to a group of young intellectuals who may yet define our view of black American culture as did their predecessors Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray.

Young is an important operating word when describing Dyson. Most professors do not become nationally known while still in their thirties, nor do they often head whole departments at that age. Dyson has done both while still in his mid-thirties, due in part to the success of his books and the strength of his journalism. Philadelphia Inquirer book critic Carlo Romano called Dyson crown prince to the two most established black male intellectuals: [Cornel] West and scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Born in 1958 in Detroit, Michigan, Dyson grew up in a comfortable middle-class family. His father was an auto worker, his mother a para-professional in the city schools. In a piece published in Details magazine, Dyson suggested that, due in large part to his age, he was somewhat isolated from the bitter civil rights struggles that occurred in the 1960s. I was nine years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. died, he said. I had never heard of him before then. I remember a newscaster interrupted the regular programming and broke the news. My father, sitting in his chair, went Hmph. Ahmph that said both I cant believe it and How predictable. That was my initiation into the world of white and black.

When Dyson was a teenager, a well-meaning neighbor gave him a full set of the Harvard Classics. This standard literature of mostly white European authors may not

At a Glance

Born October 23, 1958, in Detroit, Ml; son of Everett (an auto worker) and Addie (an aide in the public schools) Dyson; married second wife, Marcia Louise, June24, 1992; children: Michael If, Maisha Education: Carson-Newman College, BA (magna cum laude), 1982; Princeton University, M.A., 1991, Ph.D., 1993.

Former instructor at Mathy College, Princeton University, Hartford Seminary, and Chicago Theological Seminary; Brown University, Providence, RI, assistant professor, 1993-94; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, director of Institute of African American Research, 1994. Ordained Baptist minister.

Member: Democratic Socialist Society of America.

Selected awards National magazine award from National Association of Black Journalists, 1992.

Addresses: Office Institute of African American Research, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599.

sound like preferred reading for a black teenager, but Dyson devoured the whole set. I was reading Two Years before the Mast and also getting my [link to black culture through black musicians like] Smokey Robinson, he joked in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Dyson graduated from high school in 1976 and at the same time became a teenaged father. His responsibilities led him to accept a series of jobs in maintenance and auto sales, but he lost all of his employment just weeks before his son was born. For a time he was on welfare.

Studied in Tennessee, New Jersey

With the assistance of his church pastor, Dyson became a Baptist minister and traveled south to Tennessees Knoxville College to attend divinity school. He later transferred to Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee, earning his bachelors degree with high honors in 1982. Three years later he began his ascent into academia by accepting a graduate fellowship at Princeton University. During the years in which he was completing his masters and doctorate degrees he also taught at Princeton and at Hartford Seminary and Chicago Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. in 1993.

Although scholars traditionally distance themselves from popular culture, Dyson chose to focus on topics of interest to mainstream readers. He became a regular contributor of record reviews to Rolling Stone, a popular columnist for Christian Century and The Nation, and reviewed books and films for newspapers. His first book-length collection of essays, Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism, contains pieces on racism in the seminary, filmmaker Spike Lee, entertainer Michael Jackson, sports star Michael Jordan, and black religious leaders as diverse as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. By addressing himself to some of pop cultures icons, Dyson noted that he was attempting to resist the labored seductions of all narrow views of black life, whether they be racist, essentialist, or otherwise uncritically disposed toward African American culture.

Dyson embarked upon his book Making Malcolm after a confrontation with some of his black male students at Brown University. The students objected to the presence of whites in Dysons class on the radical Muslim leader, claiming that the whites discuss things they dont know about, especially Malcolm Xs life and philosophy. In response Dyson decided to write a comprehensive and critical examination of what [Malcolm X] said and did so that his life and thought will be useful to future generations of peoples in struggle around the globe, as quoted from the books introduction.

Making Malcolm Reached Wide Audience

Making Malcolm was published late in 1994 by Oxford University Press. The target audience was hardly just a group of ivory tower academicians, however: The books dust jacket included praiseworthy blurbs from figures such as Angela Davis, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, and rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy. Oxford University Press marketed the work through mainstream booksellers such as B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, recognizing that the audience for Making Malcolm would extend far beyond the scholarly community. Los Angeles Times Book Reviewcritic Natasha Tarpley declared that in Making Malcolm Dyson exhibits great respect, sensitivity and love--a balance Malcolm himself mastered. The critic added: Dyson assesses Malcolms role in the resurgent black nationalism(s) of this generations young black artists and students [and] criticizes this generation for failing to learn Malcolms greatest lesson, that of self-criticism; for seeing only the parts of Malcolm, of ourselves, of our struggle that we want to see. In the Washington Post Book World, Salim Muwakkil praised Dyson for his willingness to embrace [Malcolm Xs] complexity, a quality that lifts this volume above those so far that have sought simply to shape Malcolms message to serve their particular passion. New Yorker correspondent Michael Berube concluded: Dyson gives us Malcolm as public moralist--and a study that is as substantive and comprehensive as public cultural criticism of such a figure can hope to be.

In the wake of the reception for Making Malcolm, Dyson has addressed another issue in the black community: the cultural significance of gangsta rap. Dyson is a sought-after authority on rap music, having been asked to testify about it before a congressional subcommittee and, according to the New Yorker, being lauded by Chuck D as a bad brother. Typically, Dysons approach to the genre is thoughtful and thorough, neither completely condemning the music nor embracing it.

In Dysons third book,Betu;een God and Gangsta Rap, as well as in essays and editorials, including one in the Wichita Eagle, he has sought to put gangsta rap in its cultural and social perspective. Gangsta rap often reaches higher than its ugliest, lowest common denominator, he noted. Misogyny, violence, materialism and sexual transgression are not its exclusive domain. At its best, this music draws attention to complex dimensions of ghetto life ignored by most Americans. Indeed, gangsta raps in-your-face style may do more to force America to confront crucial social problems than a million sermons or political speeches.

Among the New Intellectuals

The success of his books in particular has led to increased visibility for Dyson, who has appeared on talk shows and at book signings in the largest American cities. Berube included Dyson when he spoke in the New Yorker of a generation of African American intellectuals [whose] work has become a fixture of mall bookstores, talk shows, elite universities, and black popular culture. Berube added: Plainly, they have consolidated the gains of the civil-rights and Black Power movements in at least this regard: they have the ability and the resources to represent themselves in public on their own terms. Robert S. Boynton, in an Atlantic Monthly essay, also identified Dyson as residing among an impressive group of African American writers and thinkers [who] have emerged to revive and revitalize [the role of the public intellectual]. They are bringing moral imagination and critical intelligence to bear on the definingly American matter of race--and reaching beyond race to voice what one calls the commonality of American concern.

Reflecting on his current position as a man of letters and sought-after commentator, Dyson told the Philadelphia Inquirer: I have to constantly negotiate the tension between past neighborhood and present neighborhood. He added that his success is affirming, of course, but it also feels awkward. I think of myself as a Trojan Horse. I dont have an earring in my nose or ear. I dont have my hair combed back in a ponytail, or rough-hewn. I look like an insider. But theres a whole lot of Negroes inside of me. Theres a whole lot of black men inside of me. And when I get in somewhere, I let them out.

Selected writings

Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism, University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Between God and Gangsta Rap, Oxford University Press, 1995.

Sources

Books

Dyson, Michael Eric, introduction to Making Malcolm; The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Dyson, Michael Eric, introduction to Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism, University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Periodicals

Atlantic Monthly, March 1995, pp. 53-70.

Details, October 1995, pp. 162-67, 189.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 26, 1995, p. 4.

New Yorker, January 9, 1995, pp. 73-80.

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 12, 1995, pp. IF, 5F.

Washington Post, October 12, 1993, p. 3C.

Washington Post Book World, December 18, 1994, p. 11.

Wichita Eagle, July 2, 1995, p. 19A.

Mark Kram

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"Dyson, Michael Eric 1958—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Dyson, Michael Eric 1958—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dyson-michael-eric-1958

"Dyson, Michael Eric 1958—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dyson-michael-eric-1958

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Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Dyson, Michael Eric 1958–

DYSON, Michael Eric 1958–

PERSONAL:

Born October 23, 1958, in Detroit, MI; son of Addie Mae (a public school teacher's aide), and Everett Dyson (stepfather; an auto worker); married and divorced first wife; married Brenda Joyce (a nurse), 1982 (divorced); married Marcia Louise (a public relations specialist, marketing consultant, and author), June 24, 1992; children: Michael, Maisha. Education: Attended Knoxville College; Carson-Newman College, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1985; Princeton University, M.A., 1991, Ph.D., 1993. Politics: Democratic Socialists of America. Religion: Baptist.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 201 Logan Hall, 249 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104-6304. E-mail[email protected];[email protected]

CAREER:

Licensed Baptist preacher, 1979, ordained minister, 1981; preacher and minister at various Baptist churches, including Thankful Baptist Church, TN; Mathy College, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, former assistant master; Hartford Seminary, Hartford CT, assistant director of poverty project, 1988-89; Chicago Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL, 1989-92, began as instructor of ethics and cultural criticism, became assistant professor; Brown University, Providence, RI, assistant professor, c. 1993-95; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, professor of communication studies and director of Institute of African-American Research, c. 1995-97; Columbia University, New York, NY, visiting distinguished professor of African-American studies, 1997-99; DePaul University, Chicago, Ida B. Wells-Barnett University Professor, 1999-2002; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, currently Avalon Foundation Professor. Television and radio show guest; has appeared in films, including Tupac: The Hip Hop Genius, 2004, and Waist Deep, 2006; has appeared on television shows and in series episodes.

AWARDS, HONORS:

National Magazine Award, National Association of Black Journalism, 1992; Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work of Nonfiction, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2006, for Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?

WRITINGS:

Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism (essays), University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1993.

Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture (essays), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line (essays), Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1996.

I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. (biography), Free Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur (biography), Basic Civitas Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Open Mike: Reflections on Philosophy, Race, Sex, Culture, and Religion (essays), Basic Civitas Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Why I Love Black Women, Basic Civitas Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves, and Demons of Marvin Gaye (biography), Basic Civitas Books (New York, NY), 2004.

The Michael Eric Dyson Reader (essays), Basic Civitas Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Pride: The Seven Deadly Sins, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?, Basic Civitas Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster, Perseus Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to books, including the foreword for Heart and Head: Black Theology—Past, Present, and Future, by Dwight N. Hopkins, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, Nation, Chicago Tribune, Vibe, and Rolling Stone.

SIDELIGHTS:

An educator and ordained Baptist minister, Michael Eric Dyson has published a number of volumes that address a range of African American cultural issues. He was raised in a poor section of Detroit, Michigan, where he read voraciously at the local library and was influenced by the sermons of Baptist preachers. Following high school, Dyson became an ordained Baptist minister and completed an Ivy League education, receiving master's and doctorate degrees from Princeton University. Among his career accomplishments are appointments at well-known universities, numerous appearances on television and radio, and contributions to periodicals and journals.

Following the release of Dyson's fourth book, Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line, critic Wray Herbert summarized some of Dyson's published beliefs in a U.S. News and World Report article, writing that Dyson "has developed a theory regarding the complexity of racial identity. To Dyson, identity is something that is constantly changing and evolving, and that all societal subcurrents, like rap music, should be taken seriously….For Dyson, grasping the complexity of racial identity is the key to understanding everything from our fascination with O.J. [Simpson] and deep ambivalence about black nationalism to our uneasiness about gangsta culture and—most important—the apparent self-destructiveness of many young black men living in American cities today."

Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism, his debut book, is a collection of Dyson's journalistic writings from 1989 to 1993 on such figures as Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Spike Lee. It also concerns such topics as racism, sexism, film, politics, and music. According to Patricia Hill Collins in Contemporary Sociology: "Dyson manages to merge sophisticated theoretical analysis with a comprehensible and plausible interpretation of contemporary black culture." Jonathan Scott, writing in Modern Fiction Studies, called the work, "in a fundamental sense … an autobiographical account of a good man's intellectual formation and moral activity in the world."

In Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X, Dyson examines the appeal of the controversial political leader to the current generation of African American males and locates Malcolm's legacy in the development of alliances between African Americans and other racial and social minorities within the United States. Nation reviewer Lawrence Muhammad questioned Dyson's assessment of Malcolm's influence among black youth of the rap generation. According to Muhammad, "Making Malcolm carefully separates the legacy from any antisocial implications, but Dyson doesn't say if Malcolm's evolution to virtue has positively influenced today's troubled teens." A Publishers Weekly contributor declared that Dyson's work comprises a "thoughtful, scholarly essay."

Dyson's Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture offers a collection of essays on subjects ranging from his brother's imprisonment for murder to the music of singers Mariah Carey and Vanessa Williams; a consideration of racial issues in the O.J. Simpson murder trial is also included. Time magazine reviewer Christopher John Farley called the work "provocative." Booklist contributor Mike Tribby praised Dyson's critique of gangsta rap music, noting his "literate and compelling argument that cultural warfare over popular music … is just a convenient way for society to avoid dealing with larger issues of race and class."

Race Rules contains six essays that touch on a range of topics, such as O.J. Simpson's criminal trial, Louis Farrakhan, Colin Powell, the Million Man March, the movie Waiting to Exhale, and sexual issues such as homophobia and promiscuity. A Publishers Weekly critic reviewed the "somewhat disjointed essay collection," asserting that Dyson "writes with rhythm and power, even if he sometimes travels well-trod ground." New York Times Book Review contributor Allen D. Boyer was disappointed that "the writing seems regrettably hasty," yet he maintained that Race Rules accomplishes its goal to give direction to "deal with white people's newfound resentment of black people's continuing rage."

In I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr., Dyson contends that King's image has been manipulated to serve the agendas of many of those who have written about him. In Dyson's view, King's memory is soiled by blacks as well as whites, liberals as well as conservatives. He portrays King as a revolutionary thinker and delves into the true life of the man, noting his weaknesses, which included plagiarism and promiscuity. He draws parallels between King and more contemporary voices, including those of young rappers. King, according to Dyson, was not so different from Malcolm X: they actually shared some similar militant views regarding the fight against segregation. Dyson's goal is to portray King as "a useful hero, a working icon, a meaningful metaphor." "And he succeeds with consistently interesting essays that reveal King's relevance to current racial issues and debate in this new century," reported Juan Williams in Black Issues Book Review.

Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur is Dyson's tribute to the gangsta rapper whose stardom did not end with his shooting death in 1996. Shakur, born to a Black Panther mother, was a dropout who loved books and a poet who went on to work in films and become a "thug" culture icon. Dyson examines Shakur's music and hip-hop attitudes toward women, religion, sexuality, and violence. The book is enhanced by the contributions of others, such as actress Jada Pinkett Smith, Shakur's close friend. Black Issues Book Review contributor Tracy Grant wrote that Holler If You Hear Me may explain "why Tupac's death was not only tragic, but also possibly one of the greatest losses in black music since Sam Cooke."

In Open Mike: Reflections on Philosophy, Race, Sex, Culture, and Religion Dyson offers essays about a number of subjects and people, including Shakur, King, Malcolm X, the Black Muslims, and sports figures. The Michael Eric Dyson Reader similarly is a collection of essays, some of which are about these same people. It also contains Dyson's letter to his brother in prison, as well as other essays in which Dyson examines politics, religion, racism, and sexuality.

Kliatt reviewer Kaa-Vonia Hinton called Why I Love Black Women "a much-needed tribute to the black woman." Dyson includes tributes to many black women in his life and others he admires. Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves, and Demons of Marvin Gaye is a biography of the very talented Motown singer. Entertainment Weekly critic Tom Sinclair described the book as "a fascinating consideration of Gaye's life, art, sexuality, and musical legacy." Dyson also has contributed a volume to the "Seven Deadly Sins" series with Pride: The Seven Deadly Sins, in which he addresses black pride, white pride, and national pride, and particularly how the last of these has prevented advances in civil rights, women's rights, and gay rights.

In 2004 black actor and comedian Bill Cosby reversed his previously stated position that privileged whites should give poor blacks a hand up by saying that poor black parents are at fault for not lifting themselves and their families out of the underclass. Cosby infamously went so far as to call them "knuckleheads." Among people, both white and black, who took issue with the wealthy star's statement, was Dyson, who went on to write Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind? Dyson, who says that he is an admirer of Cosby, studies the actor's accusations, pointing out that he ignores the barriers to opportunity set in the way of most blacks, such as unequal education and living conditions, as well as harsher treatment by the justice system. He also points out flaws in Cosby's own life and calls him an "Afristocrat," or a black who criticizes poor blacks for giving their race a bad image.

Dyson, who himself was a teenage father on welfare, does not deny that there are actions that poor urban blacks can take that would help them advance more easily in American society, but he is clear on the obstacles that stand in the way, too. "The power of the book lies in its sensitive yet objective handling of the plight of the disadvantaged," wrote Douglass Danoff in Essence, "who often make limited choices that Dyson neither fully condemns nor condones."

Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster is Dyson's study about the causes and effects of the 2005 disaster that left so many black residents of New Orleans homeless, destitute, or dead. Angela P. Dodson wrote in Black Issues Book Review that Dyson "applies his awesome intellect, storehouses of fact and rapier-like pen to resolving the puzzlement we all shared in watching the Katrina unfold." Dyson questions the extent to which the government at all levels felt a need to come to their aid and documents a long-standing failure to address the problems of the poor. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described as "powerful and unsettling" Dyson's contention that the events of Katrina exemplified a culture of "active malice" and historical "passive indifference" toward poor blacks.

Dyson quotes conservative religious leaders, such as David Crowe, who said that New Orleans was being punished by God for its immorality. Dyson responded by writing: "In the case of Katrina, such views drip with hubris and hate. To suggest that God chose to use the storm is presumptuous, and anachronistic, enough; but to posit its rage as person- and issue-specific—to rid New Orleans of gays, practitioners of voodoo and abortion, and poor blacks—is contemptuous of the precious human life God cherishes, not to mention homophobic and racist." To the question of why God would let this happen to the people of New Orleans, Dyson writes: "On the Gulf Coast, humans fell short, not God; humans and human institutions should be called to account, not God."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

books

Dyson, Michael Eric, Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster, Perseus Books (New York, NY), 2006.

periodicals

African American Review, spring, 2002, Dwight N. Hopkins, review of I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 169.

American Prospect, February 25, 2002, Alex P. Kellogg, review of Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, p. 37.

Black Issues Book Review, July, 2000, Juan Williams, review of I May Not Get There with You, p. 45; September, 2001, Tracy Grant, review of Holler If You Hear Me, p. 34; January-February, 2003, Tracy Grant, review of Why I Love Black Women, p. 52; March-April, 2003, Tracy Grant, review of Open Mike: Reflections on Philosophy, Race, Sex, Culture, and Religion, p. 60; May-June, 2004, Herb Boyd, review of The Michael Eric Dyson Reader, p. 40; May-June, 2006, Angela P. Dodson, review of Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster, p. 40.

Booklist, December 15, 1995, Mike Tribby, review of Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture, pp. 671; January 1, 2000, Vanessa Bush, review of I May Not Get There with You, p. 837; August, 2001, Mike Tribby, review of Holler If You Hear Me, p. 2046; December 15, 2002, Vernon Ford, review of Open Mike, p. 711; February 1, 2003, Vanessa Bush, review of Why I Love Black Women, p. 960; January 1, 2004, Vanessa Bush, review of The Michael Eric Dyson Reader, p. 795; May 15, 2005, Vernon Ford, review of Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?, p. 1618; February 1, 2006, Vernon Ford, review of Pride: The Seven Deadly Sins, p. 20.

Chicago Tribune Books, August 8, 1993, George Packer, review of Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism, p. 6.

Christian Century, August 16, 2000, Lewis Baldwin, review of I May Not Get There with You, p. 838.

Contemporary Sociology, July, 1994, Patricia Hill Collins, review of Reflecting Black, p. 607.

Ebony, April, 2006, review of Come Hell or High Water, p. 26.

Education Next, winter, 2006, review of Is Bill Cosby Right?, p. 78.

Entertainment Weekly, April 2, 2004, Tom Sinclair, review of Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves, and Demons of Marvin Gaye, p. 71.

Essence, August, 2005, Douglas Danoff, review of Is Bill Cosby Right?, p. 112.

Kliatt, November, 2004, Kaa-Vonia Hinton, review of Why I Love Black Women, p. 36.

Library Journal, January, 2000, Anthony O. Edmonds, review of I May Not Get There with You, p. 128; September 1, 2001, Bill Piekarski, review of Holler If You Hear Me, p. 182; January, 2004, Anthony J. Adam, review of The Michael Eric Dyson Reader, p. 140; May 15, 2005, Suzanne W. Wood, review of Is Bill Cosby Right?, p. 133.

Modern Fiction Studies, winter, 1994, Jonathan Scott, review of Reflecting Black, p. 923.

Nation, February 13, 1995, Lawrence Muhammad, review Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X, p. 213.

National Catholic Reporter, June 16, 2006, Jeff Severns Guntzel, review of Come Hell or High Water, p. 6.

New Republic, October 22, 2001, John McWorter, review of Holler If You Hear Me, p. 86.

New Statesman, January 21, 2002, Johann Hari, review of Holler If You Hear Me, p. 51.

New York Times Book Review, December 10, 1996, Allen D. Boyer, review of Race Rules, p. 56.

Publishers Weekly, October 10, 1994, review of Making Malcolm, p. 55; August 12, 1996, review of Race Rules, p. 71; November 29, 1999, review of I May Not Get There with You, p. 58; August 6, 2001, review of Holler If You Hear Me, p. 78; November 11, 2002, review of Open Mike, p. 55; April 12, 2004, review of Mercy, Mercy Me, p. 56; April 25, 2005, review of Is Bill Cosby Right?, p. 51; January 16, 2006, review of Come Hell or High Water, p. 55.

Spectator, April 22, 2006, Ronald Segal, review of Pride.

Time, December 18, 1995, Christopher John Farley, review of Between God and Gangsta Rap, p. 80.

U.S. News & World Report, November 4, 1996, Wray Herbert, review of Race Rules.

Variety, November 12, 2001, Allison Burnett, review of Holler If You Hear Me, p. 37.

Western Journal of Black Studies, winter, 2001, Stephen G. Hall, review of I May Not Get There with You, p. 240.

online

AOL Black Voices,http://blackvoices.aol.com/ (January 18, 2006), Angela Bronner, "11 Questions for Michael Eric Dyson on Hurricane Katrina and Other Issues of the Day," interview with Michael Eric Dyson.

Black Commentator,http://www.blackcommentator.com/ (March 16, 2006), Jared A. Ball, "Et tu Michael Eric Dyson?: Fraternizing with the Devil."

Democracy Now! Online,http://www.democracynow.org/ (October 14, 2005), Amy Goodman, "Professor Preacher Michael Eric Dyson on the State of the Country: 'Some of Us Are in First Class, but the Plane Is in Trouble.'"

Michael Eric Dyson Home Page,http://www.michaelericdyson.com (August 22, 2006).

Michael Eric Dyson Radio Home Page,http://dysontalk.net (August 22, 2006).

New York Times Online,http://www.nytimes.com/ (March 27, 2005), Deborah Solomon, "Bill Cosby's Not Funny," interview with Michael Eric Dyson.

Playahata.com,http://www.playahata.com/ (June 2, 2005), "Death of the N-Word," interview with Michael Eric Dyson.*

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