Friday, April 14, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - The Kenneth Harrow Symposium, Texas A&M, April 21, 2017

The Kenneth Harrow Symposium, Texas A&M, April 21, 2017

Theorizing the subject of African Cultural Production: Reflections on the Work of Kenneth W. Harrow

Contact: Carmela Garritano  (



Toyin Falola


On Friday April 21, 2017, we gather for a one-day symposium at Texas A & M University in honor of our great friend and colleague, Professor Kenneth Harrow. This event, organized by Carmela Garritano and Cajetan Iheka, is supported by the Department of History, Africana Studies, Department of International Studies, Film Studies, and the Department of Philosophy.


We come together both to celebrate his achievements as a scholar and as a small token of gratitude for his long service as a teacher and mentor. Speakers include Davide Donkor and Ira Dworkin, both of Texas A&M; Olabode Ibironke of Rutgers University, Jon Haynes of Long Island University, Moradewun Adejunmobi of the University of California at Davis; Hana Ali, Frieda Ekotto and Emilie Diouf all three from the University of Michigan, and myself. The Keynote Speaker is Simon Gikandi of Princeton, who will give a lecture entitled "Between Romance and Tragedy: African Subjects and the Burden of Modernity."  Kenneth Harrow, too, will be there, to "decompose and compose," as he always does very well.


A short biography is appropriate here. Kenneth Harrow, whose teaching obligations end this year at Michigan State University, will retire from his professorship after next year, while enjoying a brief moment of a "consultancy year" of research. What a glorious career! He has been immensely influential and an accomplished scholar in the fields of African cinemas, African Literatures, and Postcolonial studies, among other related fields, over the past five decades. After graduating with a B.S. from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in 1964, he moved to New York University to complete his graduate studies in English (M. A. in English, 1965) and Comparative Literature (Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, 1970). Even as he worked towards his doctoral degree (thesis: "The Transformation of the Rebel:  A Comparative Study of the Works of Albert Camus, Ignazio Silone, and Arthur Miller"), he began teaching at Michigan State in 1966.


By 1989, Harrow earned a full appointment as a Professor in the Department of English, after having taught in the Department of Humanities from 1966 to 1989. He complemented his appointment at MSU with multiple terms outside of Michigan, including Summer, Spring, and Winter terms in London, Paris, Dakar, and Mexico, as well as visiting professorships at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop-Dakar in Senegal (Department of English, 1989) and the University of California, San Diego (Department of Literature, 1989). From 1982 to 1983 he delivered important lectures at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal, and the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. He also taught in Cameroon. In the last twenty years, Professor Harrow has been very active in administration at Michigan State University where he served as the Director of the Graduate Program in Comparative Literature (2000-2002) and later as a Faculty Excellence Advocate (2011-2015).


            Professor Harrow's scholarship, which we celebrate here, is significant because it has achieved a greatly altered contemporary understanding of African literary modes. His scholarly published work, represented by edited volumes, over fifty journal articles, and two dozen book chapters, together with his own single-authored books, illustrate his stellar academic stature and lasting contributions to the field. His book, Thresholds of Change in African Literature: The Emergence of a Tradition (1994), considered twentieth-century developments and novel tendencies in African literature as the continent managed the pressures and ambiguities of the postcolonial social situation.


In his Less than One and Double: A Feminist Reading of African Women's Writing (2002), Professor Harrow again broke new ground on relatively unsurveyed spaces of literary criticism, using psychoanalytical methods in order to map out a critical understanding of the literatures of francophone African women writers. In his third book, Postcolonial African Cinema: From Political Engagement to Postmodernism (2007), he reassessed the scholarship on African cinema by returning to the first techniques of African filmmaking and the initial critical reactions to them in order to interrogate the premises and the state of contemporary criticism of African cinema. Professor Harrow's most recent monograph, Trash! African Cinema from Below (2013) is equally trendsetting. It treats modern developments in popular African filmmaking in a globalized world, analyzing, in particular, certain contemporary aesthetic tendencies through the figure of trash in African cinema.


            In addition to his accomplishments as an author, Professor Harrow has been active in forging fruitful scholarly discourses and interactions in the academic community in the United States and across the African Diaspora during his years as a scholar, a teacher, and a mentor at Michigan State University. From the early 1990s, he has edited important special issues in academic journals on themes such as "African Cinema," "African Nationalisms," and "Violence in Africa," and convened, organized, or coordinated several conferences (notably the 1986 and 1997 African Literature Association conferences held at MSU). He has also given innumerable invited lectures,  especially in the last fifteen years at universities in the US, and in North and West Africa on topics ranging from African cinema and literatures, modernisms and postmodernisms to postcolonialism.


Simultaneously, Professor Harrow has served in professional capacities for a variety of organizations and publishers. He is currently the African Film Editor for the African Studies Review, the General Editor of the African Humanities and Art Series of Michigan University Press, a member of the editorial board of Research in African Literatures, and occasional reviewer of African literature for such journals as PMLA, World Literature Today, and Africana Journal among others. He has served as a member of the Executive Council of the African Literature Association (1981-84; 1992-95), as well as Vice President (1987-1988) and President (1988-1989), and also as a member of the Executive Board of the African Studies Association (1997-2000). He continues to organize the Film Showings and Video Film Marketplace of the African Studies Association. Apart from these important services to the academic community, Professor Harrow has been a member of multiple award committees, from the Herskovits Award of the African Studies Association to the James Lowell Prize of the Modern Literature Association.


             His work in the field, both scholarly and professional, has been recognized by numerous awards, beginning with an early award in the early 1970s, the NEH Younger Humanist Award that enabled him to travel and conduct research in France, Algeria, and Morocco. He was awarded a Fulbright fellowship later in the decade in order to do research and lecture on American Literature at the University of Yaounde in Cameroon (1977-79), and again a few years later to conduct research in Dakar (1982-83). In the past fifteen years, Professor Harrow received another Fulbright fellowship, on exchange at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar (2005-2006), as well as other prestigious awards. The African Literature Association awarded him its first Distinguished Member Award in 2009. Michigan State University has also recognized him with the Distinguished Faculty Award (2010) and the Paul Varg Alumni Award for Faculty. The University of Texas at Austin equally bestowed upon him the Distinguished Africanist Award (2011). The African Studies Association, most recently, awarded him the African Studies Association Public Service Award.


            Professor Harrow's impact transcends academia. Outside of academia, Professor Harrow serves as a member of the United States Coordinating Committee for Central Africa of Amnesty International, specifically as the country coordinator for Burundi and Rwanda. In this capacity, he has served as an expert witness to numerous asylum cases for these countries. He has also served as coordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After over forty years of remarkable research, teaching, and service at Michigan State University,  Professor Harrow will retire later this year.


We wish him and Liz, his lovely wife, every happiness and success in all their future endeavors. Ken has lived up to the standard of the great Senegalese leader, Ahmadu Bamba, who taught us the following: "This life is God's farm and no one sends anyone to his farm to sleep."  Through research, teaching, and service, Professor Harrow has certainly not slept! He "has farmed well his farm." It is our turn to harvest the benefits of his labor and to express our gratitude to him by celebrating his accomplishments!


Toyin Falola
Department of History
The University of Texas at Austin
104 Inner Campus Drive
Austin, TX 78712-0220
512 475 7224
512 475 7222 (fax)

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