A conversation with Gerald Early

Gerald Early is an acclaimed scholar, critic and essayist. He is the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters in the African and African American Studies Department at Washington University, and among his many interests is the wide world of sports – especially baseball.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, he grew up a Phillies fan.

“I still root for Philadelphia – except when they play the Cardinals,” Early said.

In a conversation with St. Louis Public Radio reporter Rachel Lippmann on a recent episode of St. Louis on the Air, St. Louis Public Radio reporter Rachel Lippmann, the St. Louis Hall of Fame inductee discussed his love for baseball, his new book, “The Cambridge Companion to Boxing” and more.

“The Cambridge Companion to Boxing” is a collection of essays that “cover the whole gamut of things” – from a chronology of the sport’s history to the contributions of boxers of different sexes and ethnicities.

“The hope is that people would find that these sorts of subjects interesting; and they would find that boxing permeates our culture and has influenced our society much more than people might think,” he added.

Early’s research and professional contributions vary widely, a trait that speaks to his deep curiosity about life. 

“I think I've always kind of wanted to understand how the world works,” he said. “And I've always wanted to try to understand, I think to some degree, the African American’s place in the world – which is one reason that's one dimension of my writing.”

“But I've always wanted to understand the United States, and I think I tried to take … different ways of looking at my native land and to try to understand what it is – it's a big, complicated animal.”

Among his roles at Washington University is editorial responsibility for The Common Reader, a collection of articles, reviews and creative nonfiction.

When asked about what makes a good essay, Early said it comes down to “honest and authentic engagement as a writer with the material.

“And the writer also having respect for his or her audience,” he added, “and wanting to really try to engage his or her audience.”

While many institutions are beginning to emphasize the importance of STEM fields, Early hopes people still value the importance of words.

“As far as education goes, there are numbers and there are words – and they're both equally important,” he said. “I hope that people don't lose sight of how important words are and how much our reality, our sense of ourselves, is constructed out of words. And I'm hoping that people don't lose that.

“The numbers, the statistics, all those sorts of things don't explain all of what the human experience is: the human experience still comes down to words.”

Published with permission of St. Louis Public Radio from news.stlouispublicradio.org.

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