Fred Moten

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


Moten obtained his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, Boston and his PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley. Presently, he works as a Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. His research interests revolve around black studies, performance studies, 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 (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 (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.”


Moten is often recognised as one of the most important contemporary American poets and he wrote the following poetry collections: The Little Edges (2014), The Feel Trio (2014), B Jenkins (2010), and Hughson’s Tavern (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.


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.