Early receives Phi Beta Kappa Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities

Gerald L. Early, Ph.D., the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and director of the Center for the Humanities in Arts & Sciences, received the Phi Beta Kappa Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities on Oct. 28.

Early, professor of English, of African & African American Studies and of American culture studies, all in Arts & Sciences, received the award during the 41st Triennial Council of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which met Oct. 25-29 in Atlanta.

Given in recognition of significant contributions in the humanities, the award is funded by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. William Jaffee. It includes a cash prize and a medal named for the couple.

Previous award recipients include Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate of the United States; Daniel J. Boorstin, retired Librarian of Congress; Louis B. Wright, former director of the Folger Shakespeare Library; and Barnaby C. Keeney, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and former president of Brown University.

Delegates from 270 Phi Beta Kappa chapters and more than 60 associations attended the council. The Phi Beta Kappa Senate selected Early based on nominations from chapters, associations and individual members.

An acclaimed essayist and American culture critic, Early is the author of several books, including The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture, which won the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, One Nation Under a Groove: Motown & American Culture (1994) and This Is Where I Came In: Black America in the 1960s (2003).

He also edited numerous volumes, including The Sammy Davis, Jr. Reader (2001); Miles Davis and American Culture (2001); The Muhammad Ali Reader (1998); and Body Language: Writers on Sport (1998). How the War in the Streets Is Won: Poems on the Quest of Love and Faith (1995) was his first book of poetry.

Early, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has received two Grammy Award nominations in the category of Best Album Notes for Yes I Can! The Sammy Davis Jr. Story and Rhapsodies in Black: Music and Words From the Harlem Renaissance.

He also has served as a consultant on Ken Burns’ PBS documentaries on baseball and jazz and was a commentator on Burns’ documentary on Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion.

Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest academic honor society. It has chapters at 276 institutions and more than half a million members throughout the country.

Its mission is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, to recognize academic excellence and to foster freedom of thought and expression.

Among its programs are academic and literary awards, lectureships, a fellowship, a professorship and publication of The American Scholar, an award-winning quarterly journal.