Cornel West Biography

Academic, Philosopher, Educator, Scholar, Civil Rights Activist(1953–)
Cornel West is a political activist, author and university professor. His books include Race Matters and Democracy Matters.

Synopsis

Cornel West was born on June 2, 1953, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has taught at universities such as Harvard and Princeton, and has written books that include Race Matters, Democracy Matters and the memoir Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. West is also known for his appearances in the 2003 Matrix sequels, his spoken word albums and for co-hosting a radio show, Smiley & West, with Tavis Smiley.

Early Years

Cornel Ronald West was born on June 2, 1953, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Cornel West and his three siblings grew up in Sacramento, California, where they were raised by a mother who taught elementary school and a father who worked as a civilian administrator for the U.S. Air Force.

In 1970, West started attending Harvard University. Just three years later, he graduated magna cum laude with a major in near Eastern languages and civilization. West then enrolled at Princeton University. By 1980, he had earned both a master's degree and a doctorate in philosophy from Princeton.

Thinker, Teacher and Writer

West began his working career as a lecturer. The schools he first taught at include Harvard, New York City's Union Theological Seminary, the University of Paris and Yale University's Divinity School. West accepted a religion professorship at Princeton University in 1988. Following at six-year stint at Princeton, he chose to become a professor of African-American studies at Harvard. A 2001 blow-up with Harvard's then-president, Lawrence H. Summers, ended with West decamping to Princeton. In 2011, West opted to return to Union Theological Seminary.

In 1982, West's Prophesy Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity was published. During the rest of the 1980s and early '90s, West brought out more books that touched on philosophy and religion, such as Prophetic Fragments: Illuminations of the Crisis in American Religion and Culture (1988) and The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought (1991).

West's writing also addressed racial and sociopolitical phenomena. The essays in the best-selling Race Matters (1993) focused on the plight of struggling African Americans. West's major written works have since included The Future of the Race (1997), written with Henry Louis Gates Jr., Democracy Matters (2004) and a memoir entitled Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud (2009).

Politics and Activism

West's political activism dates back to his childhood, when he participated in civil rights demonstrations with his family in Sacramento. While West was teaching at Yale University, he took part in protests against South Africa's apartheid regime, and was subsequently arrested.

In terms of political affiliation, West's loyalty lies with the Democratic Socialists; he has been a member of that party since 1982. West campaigned for Barack Obama during his first presidential run, but then deemed Obama "a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats" in 2011. However, during the 2012 presidential election, West stated that he preferred Obama to Mitt Romney.

Other Projects

In 2003, West made his big screen debut in The Matrix Reloaded. He also appeared in the final film of the Matrix trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions (2003). West's other creative outlets include the recording of spoken word albums. Some of his work was featured on Terence Blanchard's Choices, winner of France's Grand Prix award for best jazz album of 2009.

In 2010, West began co-hosting the radio show Smiley & West with Tavis Smiley. The two also co-wrote The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto (2012). Other more recent works include Pro+Agonist: The Art of Opposition (2012) and Black Prophetic Fire (2014).

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