2018 Keables Scholar
William Jelani Cobb is the Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism at Columbia University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. He has previously taught at Spelman College, Rutgers University, and the University of Connecticut at Storrs.
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), a 2007 finalist for the National Award for Arts Writing of the Arts Club of Washington, and The Devil & Dave Chappelle and Other Essays. Cobb's articles have appeared in the Washington Post, The New Yorker, Essence, Vibe, Emerge, The Progressive, The Washington City Paper, One Magazine, and Ebony.
He has been a commentator on National Public Radio, CNN, Al-Jazeera, CBS News, and other national broadcast outlets. Cobb won the 2015 Sidney Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism for his The New Yorker columns on race, the police, and injustice. He is also the recipient of the Walter Bernstein Award from the Writer’s Guild of America for his investigative series "Policing the Police," which aired on PBS Frontline.
Clear, concise writing, a conversational tone, and cogent arguments make this a compelling read, particularly for those with an interest in Obama's presidential campaign and election, but also for students of politics, history, and the Civil Rights Movement.
Cobb is especially good on the contrast between Obama and Jesse Jackson, whose celebrated work had opened many doors for Obama, but who now failed to inspire most young African-Americans. Obama embodies the face--multiracial and cosmopolitan--of the next generation, and his ‘ultimate significance may be less as a president than as a harbinger of what comes after his presidency.' A rich, provocative meditation on the importance of Obama's election.
Barack Obama's presidential campaign shone an incisive light on the nation's attitudes about race and on the roots of black political empowerment. William Jelani Cobb provides a wealth of historical background and an eloquent appraisal of the present, as he narrates how a grassroots movement and a cadre of young people (the Joshua generation) successfully fought the established political machine for the hearts and ballots of the black community. An insightful and thought-provoking book.
―Benjamin Todd Jealous
President and CEO of the NAACP
William Jelani Cobb's The Substance of Hope is a deft analysis of many vectors brought to bear on the unexpected rise of Barack Obama. With a specific eye towards the overlap between race and age, Cobb deconstructs the politics of the civil rights generation in the Obama age with nuance and honesty. A provocative book, from a provocative mind.
author of The Beautiful Struggle