Life and Works of Cornel West
He earned his A.B. at Harvard University, then completed his doctorate in philosophy at Princeton in 1980. While a graduate student, he was a teaching assistant in humanities and ethics at Harvard and in philosophy at Princeton.
The Panthers impressed upon him the importance of political activism at the local level and introduced him to the writings of Karl Marx. In 1970, at age 17, West entered Harvard University on a scholarship. He graduated magna cum laude three years later with a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern languages and literature. He attended graduate school in philosophy at Princeton University, where he was influenced by the American pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty. (West briefly abandoned work on his dissertation to write a novel, which was never published.) After receiving his doctoral degree in 1980, West taught philosophy, religion, and African American studies at several colleges and universities, including Union Theological Seminary, Yale University (including the Yale Divinity School), the University of Paris, Princeton University, and Harvard University, where he was appointed Alphonse Fletcher, Jr., University Professor in 1998. He returned to Princeton in 2002 as Class of 1943 University Professor in the Center for African American Studies.
However, Eric J. Sundquist, writing in Commentary, found the book's presentation of Du Bois's views to be incomplete and consequently inaccurate, and concludes: "Even if there is plenty to choose here between West's doomsaying and Gate's pragmatism, neither tells us much about the future of the race." Most of West's writings seek to inspire individuals to use the power of their minds to better themselves and their communities. Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life is no exception, but it also covers much more. Written with educator bell hooks, Breaking Bread includes the authors' thoughts on sexism, racism, and individualism, but also offers their critiques of aspects of black modern culture, including fashion and arts. Black Enterprise writer Tonya Bolden recommended Breaking Bread to "those who value the life of the mind," and observed that "the book lacks malice and carries a message of hope attesting to the authors' love for their people and commitment to their salvation." A Publishers Weekly reviewer similarly found that Breaking Bread "is of enormous importance and offers rewarding reading.
In short, Cornel West has a passion to communicate to a vast variety of publics in order to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. – a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice.
Black Enterprise, June, 1992, Tonya Bolden, review of Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, p. 23.
Booklist, February 15, 1996, Bonnie Smothers, review of The Future of the Race, p. 96.
Choice, April, 1983, review of Prophesy Deliverance!: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity, p. 1156.