|Born||August 21, 1969|
Queens, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||Howard University|
|Occupation||Writer, author, educator|
The New Yorker
|Title||Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism|
William Jelani Cobb (born August 21, 1969) is an American writer, author and educator. The Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism at Columbia University, Cobb was previously an associate professor of history and director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut from 2012 to 2016. Since 2015, he has been a staff writer at The New Yorker.
William Jelani Cobb was born in Queens, New York, on August 21, 1969, the youngest of four children. Both of Cobb's parents had migrated from the South, where they did not have access to high-quality schools. As a result, they were determined to give reading and learning important places in their family life. Cobb counted being taught to write at an early age by his father, Willie Lee Cobb—an electrician with a third-grade education—among his earliest memories. On his website, Cobb described his father's "huge hand engulfing mine as he showed me how to scrawl the alphabet."
Cobb was educated at Jamaica High School, Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he received a PhD in American history in May 2003 under the supervision of David Levering Lewis.
While studying at Howard, Cobb began his professional writing career, first publishing at a short-lived periodical called One. In time, he began contributing to the Washington City Paper. His first national outlet was YSB Magazine, part of the Black Entertainment Television, Inc. media empire, beginning in 1993. He also became more politically active during this time, and was involved with an organization that took over Howard's administration building in 1989. It was around this time that Cobb, seeking to connect more with African tradition, decided to add "Jelani"—a Swahili word meaning "powerful"—to his name.
Cobb specializes in post-Civil War African-American history, 20th-century American politics, and the history of the Cold War. He served as a delegate and historian for the 5th Congressional District of Georgia at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He previously taught at Rutgers and Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.
Cobb's books include The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress (Walker, 2010), To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic (2007), which in 2007 was a finalist for the National Award for Arts Writing of the Arts Club of Washington. His collection The Devil & Dave Chappelle and Other Essays was published the same year. Cobb has contributed to a number of anthologies, including In Defense of Mumia, Testimony, Mending the World and Beats, Rhymes and Life, and his articles and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Essence, Vibe, Emerge, The Progressive, The Washington City Paper, One Magazine, Ebony and TheRoot.com. He has also been a featured commentator on National Public Radio, CNN, Al-Jazeera, CBS News, and other national broadcast outlets.
While doing research at the New York University library, Cobb stumbled upon a cache of previously unpublished writings by Harold Cruse, an influential scholar. Cobb tracked down Cruse at a retirement home in Ann Arbor, Michigan and obtained permission to organize and edit Cruse's writings and get them published in book form. The resulting book, The Essential Harold Cruse: A Reader, edited by Cobb with a foreword by Stanley Crouch, was published in 2002; it was listed as a 2002 Notable Book of The Year by Black Issues Book Review. It enhanced Cobb's stature among the African-American Studies community nationwide.
Cobb has two forthcoming books including a scholarly monograph based on his doctoral thesis, entitled Antidote to Revolution: African American Anticommunism and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 1931–1957.