Bio


Ato Quayson is the Jean G. and Morris M. Doyle Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies and Professor of English at Stanford.

He studied for his undergraduate degree at the University of Ghana and took his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, after which he held a Junior Research Fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford before returning to Cambridge to become Reader in Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literature in the Faculty of English from 1995-2005. He was also Director of the Centre for African Studies and a Fellow of Pembroke College while at Cambridge. Prior to Stanford he was Professor of African and Postcolonial Literature at New York University (2017-2019) and Professor of English and inaugural Director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto (2005-2017). In 2016 he was appointed University Professor at the University of Toronto, the highest distinction that the university can bestow.

Professor Quayson has published 6 monographs and 8 edited volumes. His monographs include Strategic Transformations in Nigerian Writing (1997), Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice, or Process? (2000), Calibrations: Reading for the Social (2003), and Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation (2007). Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism (2014) was co-winner of the Urban History Association's 2015 Best Book Prize (non-North America) and was named in The Guardian as one of the 10 Best Books on Cities in 2014. His most recent book is Tragedy and Postcolonial Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2021). Edited volumes include Relocating Postcolonialism (with David Goldberg, 2001), African Literary Theory: An Anthology of Literary Criticism and Theory (with Tejumola Olaniyan, 2007), Fathers and Daughters: An Anthology of Exploration (2008), Labor Migration, Human Trafficking, and Multinational Corporations, (with Antonela Arhin, 2012), The Cambridge History of Postcolonial Literature, 2 volumes (2012), A Companion to Diaspora and Transnational Studies (with Girish Daswani, 2013), and The Cambridge Companion to the Postcolonial Novel (2016). He also wrote a new Introduction and Notes to Nelson Mandela’s No Easy Walk to Freedom (2003). Works-in-progress include: Accra Chic: A Locational History of Fashion in Accra (with Grace Tolequé; Intellect Books and Chicago University Press), The Cambridge Companion to the City in World Literature (with Jini Kim Watson; Cambridge University Press) and Decolonizing English Literary Studies (with Ankhi Mukherjee; Cambridge University Press).

Professor Quayson curates Critic.Reading.Writing, a YouTube channel on which he discusses various topics in literature, urban studies and the humanities in general: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjoidh_R_bJCnXyKBkytP_g

Professor Quayson has served as President of the African Studies Association (2019-2020). He is an elected Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada, and of the British Academy.

Academic Appointments


  • Professor, English
  • Professor (By courtesy), Comparative Literature

Administrative Appointments


  • Founding Director, Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, University of Toronto (2005 - 2016)
  • Director, Center for African Studies (1998 - 2005)

Honors & Awards


  • Corresponding Fellow, The British Academy (2019)
  • Fellow, Royal Society of Canada (2013)
  • Fellow, Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006)
  • Fellow, Du Bois Institute of African American Studies (2004)
  • Member, Cambridge Commonwealth Society, The University of Cambridge (1995)
  • Cambridge Commonwealth Scholar, The University of Cambridge (1991-1994)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations


  • President, African Studies Association (2019 - Present)
  • Vice-President, African Studies Association (2018 - Present)
  • Chair of Program Committee, American Comparative Literature Association (2016 - 2019)
  • Member, MLA Elections Committee (2016 - 2018)
  • Member, MLA Advisory Committee (2015 - 2017)
  • Editor, Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry (2014 - Present)
  • Member, European Research Council (2013 - 2018)
  • Member, Executive Board of the African Literature Association (2012 - 2015)
  • Member, Editorial Board of Research in African Literatures (2010 - Present)
  • Member, Executive Board of the African Studies Association (2010 - 2013)
  • Member, Editorial Board of New Literary History (2009 - Present)
  • Member, MLA Divisional Committee on Postcolonial Literature (2007 - 2012)
  • Member, International African Institute (2001 - 2006)

Professional Education


  • PhD, University of Cambridge, English (1995)
  • B.A., Hons (First Class), University of Ghana, English and Arabic (1989)

Current Research and Scholarly Interests


All my published work has drawn heavily on comparative and interdisciplinary research frameworks. The book I am currently working on, which is Tragedy and Postcolonial Literature, continues in this interdisciplinary orientation. The book turns on two questions that seem to me pertinent to the discussion of literary tragedy in the postcolonial world. The first has to do with the status of ethics in periods of historical transition. I take seriously German philosopher Axel Honneth’s proposition that identity derives from a “practical relation-to-self” that is neither limited purely to beliefs about oneself, but lie in the dynamic processes by which individuals come to experience themselves as possessing a certain status, or as being the focus of particular concern, or as capable of acting as responsible agents, or as making valued contributions to shared projects. The problem, however, is when the practical relation-to-self also involves the exercise of ethical choices and when the foundation of such choice-making is put under pressure by the massive material, epistemological, and cultural changes that take place in the different phases of transition between tradition and modernity, colonialism and post-coloniality, and in the global dispersal of diasporas that have characterized life in the postcolonial world. As I argue in the book, historical transition in postcolonial writing is thematized as a set of enigmas that the literary characters are only partially aware of. But it is the enigmatic quality of historical transition, and the varying and contradictory responses that it calls forth that raise serious questions about the status of ethical choice. The book will survey work from Plato, Aristotle, Judith Butler, the German Idealists and ancient Sanskrit theatre on key tragic questions such as the dialectical relation between determinism and contingency, the relation between stasis and mobility, the atrophy of the public commons in the face of historical transition, and the distortions of nostalgia in the spaces of diaspora before centering on the writings of African and postcolonial writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Tayeb Salih, J.M. Coetzee, Arundhati Roy, Toni Morrison, Samuel Beckett, and many others. The book will be interdisciplinary and comparative from first to last.

I intend for the next few years to focus on an interdisciplinary comparison of cities from both Global North and Global South. Cities provide a useful entry into questions of various temporal intersections and multi-synchronicities of people, infrasctructures, governmentalities, and aspirations. The key interest in this new research will be for me an opportunity to bring things together that are normally considered completely apart, if at all: the nature of boredom among occasional chess players in New York's Washington Square Park and Johannesburg's soup kitchens; streetside food vending in Toronto, Singapore, and Lagos; the different means by which charity is elicited on the subways of San Francisco, London, and Paris; and the significance of trees in gauging political engagement in Chicago and Rio, among others. To me each vector of urban analysis opens up a portal or window into different layers and interweaves to understand which we have to establish different relations of proximity and distance with the object under study. And urban phenomena yield connections with other phenomena that they may not on the surface have seemed related at all. That is what I understand by interdisciplinary studies of the urban.

2021-22 Courses


Stanford Advisees


All Publications


  • On Postcolonial Suffering: George Floyd and the Scene of Contamination CAMBRIDGE JOURNAL OF POSTCOLONIAL LITERARY INQUIRY Quayson, A. 2021; 8 (2): 127-137

    View details for DOI 10.1017/pli.2021.2

    View details for Web of Science ID 000642438500001

  • INTRODUCTION: POSTCOLONIAL SPATIALITIES INTERVENTIONS-INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POSTCOLONIAL STUDIES Quayson, A. 2020; 22 (8): 967–76
  • Morphology as Infrastructure: Notes on Method WESTERN HUMANITIES REVIEW Quayson, A. 2019; 73 (3): 181–215
  • Blackwell Companion to Diaspora and Transnationalism edited by Quayson, A., Daswani, G. Blackwell Publishers. 2013
  • Labor Migration, Human Trafficking, and Multinational Corporations edited by Quayson, A., Arhin, A. Routledge. 2012
  • Fathers and Daughters: An Anthology of Exploration edited by Quayson, A. Ayebia Publishers. 2008
  • African Literary Theory: An Anthology of Literary Criticism and Theory edited by Olaniyan, T., Quayson, A. Blackwell Publishers. 2007
  • Nelson Mandela, No Easy Walk to Freedom Penguin Classics edited by Quayson, A. Penguin Books. 2002
  • Relocating Postcolonialism edited by Goldberg, D., Quayson, A. Blackwell Publishers. 2001