George E. Kent

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George E. Kent
Alma materSavannah State College
Boston University
Spouse(s)Desiré Ash

George E. Kent (1920–1982) was an African-American professor of literature, with a specialization in Afro-American literature.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Columbus, Georgia, George Kent was the youngest of four children born to Irby D. Kent, a blacksmith and Louise Austin Kent, a school teacher. Even as a child he would teach alongside his mother. He met his wife, Desiré Ash, whilst studying for his BA at Savannah State College. After serving in the 25th Infantry (1942–5), he received his MA and PhD in English from Boston University. Dr. Kent and his wife, Desire, had two children; a son Edward, now deceased, and a daughter, Sherald.

With a strong love of literature, and a dream of becoming a teacher in his own future, he began teaching at the age of 16 in one of the schools his mother had established. His formal higher education began with a B.S in English from Savannah State College. He later obtained a Masters and PH.D from Boston University, in English Language and Literature, respectively. During these formative years, he also served in the military.


Kent Lecture Series speakers
1984 Sonia Sanchez
1985 Amiri Baraka
(formerly LeRoi Jones)
1986 Paula Giddings
1987 James Baldwin
1988 Dick Gregory
1989 Nikki Giovanni
1990 Amiri Baraka
(formerly LeRoi Jones)
1991 Ivan Van Sertima
1993 Jawanza Kunjufu
1994 Kwame Toure
(formerly Stokely Carmichael)
1995 Amiri Baraka
(formerly LeRoi Jones)
1996 Joyce Ann Joyce
1997 Michael Eric Dyson
1998 John Edgar Wideman
1999 Nikki Giovanni
2000 George Curry
2001 Amiri Baraka
(formerly LeRoi Jones)
2002 Michael Eric Dyson
2003 Sonia Sanchez
2004 Susan L. Taylor
2005 Nikki Giovanni
2006 Cornel West
2007 Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
2008 Angela Davis
2009 William Julius Wilson
2010 Ian K. Smith
2011 Henry Louis Gates
2012 Cory Booker
2013 Michelle Alexander
2014 Donna Brazile
2015 Hill Harper
2016 Ryan Coogler
2017 Melissa Harris-Perry
2018 Janet Mock

Over a long teaching career, he held numerous positions including visiting professorships with colleges and universities such as Wesleyan University, University of Connecticut, Florida A & M University, Grambling State College, and the University of Chicago. From the 1940s through the 1960s he held positions from Professor of English to Professor and Chairman of Languages and Literature, as well as Dean of Delaware State College. He was also Professor and Chairman of English in the Division of Liberal Arts at Quinnipiac College.

He finished his career in education as a Professor of English, with a specialty in African-American literature and poetry at the University of Chicago from 1970 until his death in 1982. While at the University, George E. Kent is remembered as a pioneer for being among the first tenured African-American professors at the University of Chicago and as the first African-American professor of English. Dr. Kent should also be remembered as an intense scholar and intellectual dedicated to excellence in his work as well as in the expectations he had of the many students he taught and mentored.

Throughout his tenure at the University of Chicago, he offered excellence. He brought that into the school, and for his students to whom he was fiercely loyal and held high expectations for them pursuing not only their studies but their lives in excellence. It is in this respect that the Organization of Black students honors Dr. George E. Kent annually at the OBS George E. Kent Lecture.

Kent taught at Delaware State College in Dover from 1949 to 1960, and then at Quinnipiac College in Hamden, Connecticut until 1969. He then joined the University of Chicago, becoming a full professor there in 1970, a position he retained until his death. The annual George E. Kent Lecture at the University of Chicago is named in his honour.

His specialism was Afro-American literature. He completed the first full biography of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks just before his death from cancer in 1982.

Key publications[edit]

  • Blackness and the Adventure of Western Culture, Third World Press, 1972 (ISBN 0-88378-026-7
  • A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, University Press of Kentucky, 1990 (ISBN 0-8131-0827-6)