Early is a noted essayist and American culture critic. A professor of English, of African & African American studies and of American culture studies, Early is the author of several books, including The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture, which won the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. He is also editor of numerous volumes, including This Is Where I Came In: Black America in the 1960s (2003); The Sammy Davis, Jr. Reader (2001); Miles Davis and American Culture (2001); The Muhammad Ali Reader (1998); and Body Language: Writers on Sport (1998). He served as a consultant on Ken Burns' documentary films on baseball and jazz, which both aired on PBS.