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Library and Information Science


Born in March of 1943, Houston Alfred Baker Jr. grew up in segregated Louisville. His mother was a schoolteacher; his father served as chief administrator of the city’s African-American hospital, the Red Cross Hospital, and had earned a master’s degree in hospital administration from Northwestern University on a Rockefeller fellowship. When Baker was a child, his family lived on Virginia Avenue, where Baker attended Virginia Avenue Elementary School. After his family moved to Broadway Street, Baker attended Western Elementary, later Western Junior High School, and then Male High School before leaving for Howard University in 1961. The family attended Grace Presbyterian Church in Smoketown.

Baker began using the Western Colored Branch Library at age 12. His strong interest in literature led to a distinguished career in scholarship. After completing his B.A. in English at Howard University, Baker earned a M.A. and a PhD in Victorian literature at UCLA, writing his dissertation abroad at the University of Edinburgh. After teaching at Yale University, Baker joined the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Studies in 1970. In 1974 he moved to the University of Pennsylvania to direct their African-American Studies Program, where in 1987 he founded the university’s Center for the Study of Black Literature and Culture and served as its director until 1999. Baker also served as President of the Modern Language Association in 1992-93. From 1999 until 2006, Baker held the Susan Fox and George D. Beischer Professorship at Duke University, where he also served as editor of the journal American Literature.

A preeminent scholar of African-American literature, Baker currently serves as a Distinguished Professor of English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He has authored several books, including: The Journey Back: Issues and Black Literature and Criticism (U of Chicago Press, 1980); Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature (U of Chicago Press, 1984); Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance (U of Chicago Press, 1987); Black Studies, Rap, and the Academy (U of Chicago Press, 1993); Turning South Again: Re-Thinking Modernism/Re-Reading Booker T. (Duke University Press, 2001); and The Trouble with Post-Blackness (Columbia University Press, 2015). In 2007, the Oxford University Press published Baker’s memoirs, entitled I Don’t Hate the South, and in 2009 his book Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era, published by the Columbia University Press, was honored with an American Book Award.

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This oral history is the property of the Roots of Community project at the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Library and Information Science. It has been published for private use and/or research purposes only. Except for the quotation of brief excerpts in published research, no content from the interview may be reproduced in any form, in part or in whole, without written permission from the Project Director ( Please call (601) 266-4228 for more information.