Fred Moten

(b. 1962), Professor at the European Graduate School / EGS.


Fred Moten, born in Las Vegas in 1962, is Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Before joining Tisch in Fall 2017, Moten was Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside, as well as Professor of Modern Poetry at Duke University.

In 2012 he was the Whitney J. Oates Fellow in the Humanities Council and the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, and also a faculty member of the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, Bard College.

Moten obtained his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and his PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests revolve around performance studies, black studies, poetics, literary theory, critical theory, and the relationship between social movements and art. He explored these fields of interest both by poetry and criticism.

In his book In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (University of Minnesota Press, 2003), Moten focuses on the notion of improvisation which enables him to investigate the potential connection between music (namely, jazz music of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, etc.), sexual identity, and radical black politics. Also, using the concept of blackness, Moten not only connects very different figures like Frederick Douglas and Karl Marx, Cecil Taylor and Samuel R. Delany, Billie Holliday and William Shakespeare, but also engages them into a discussion with each other.

Together with Stefano Harney, Moten wrote The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Minor Compositions, 2013) and one of the key concepts in this book is the one of debt. A question that Moten and Harney pose is the following: “can debt become a principle of elaboration?”. This concept of debt is connected with something that is described as “the brokenness of being.” According to Moten and Harney, the undercommons do not come to pay their debts or to fix something that was once broken. What undercommons (black, queer, indigenous, and poor people) want is something that is denied by the existing system, a system that not only denies that something was broken but which also refuses to recognise a belonging to a group that was wronged in the past. The undercommons want to dismantle this structure and to create a break that will in turn make possible “a new sense of wanting and being and becoming.”

In 2016, Moten published A Poetics of the Undercommons (Sputnik and Fizzle, 2016), an expanded and annotated transcription of a lecture held at Threewalls in Chicago, and a trilogy of essays — Black and Blur, Stolen Life and The Universal Machine—whose general title is consent not to be a single being (Duke University Press, 2017-2018).

Moten is also co-author, with Stefano Harney, of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Minor Compositions/Autonomedia, 2013) and, with Wu Tsang, of Who touched me? (If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want to be Part of Your Revolution, 2016).

Moten is often recognised as one of the most important contemporary American poets and he wrote the following poetry collections: The Little Edges (Wesleyan University Press, 2014), finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award (2016); The Service Porch (Letter Machine Editions, 2016); The Feel Trio (Letter Machine Editions, 2014), winner of the California Book Award as well as poetry finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; B Jenkins (Duke University Press, 2010), and Hughson’s Tavern (Leon Works, 2008).

In 2016, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Stephen E. Henderson Award for Outstanding Achievement in Poetry by the African American Literature and Culture Society. In the same year he was also the Sherry Memorial Visiting Poet at the University of Chicago.

Fred Moten was on the editorial boards of Callaloo, Discourse, American Quarterly, and Social Text. Moten also served as a member of the Critical Theory Institute at the University of California, Irvine and he was on the advisory board of Issues in Critical Investigation, Vanderbilt University. He was a board member of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, City University of New York.


Stefano Harney, Fred Moten

Faculty Interview