Ato Quayson (Pembroke ’91)

Dr Ato Quayson is a Ghanaian literary critic and the Jean G. and Morris M. Doyle Professor in interdisciplinary studies and comparative literature at Stanford University. 

Dr Quayson studied for his undergraduate degree at the University of Ghana in 1989, graduating with a bachelor’s (First class) in English and Arabic. Matriculating at Pembroke College in 1991, by 1995 he completed his PhD in English as a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Cambridge. After this, he held a junior research fellowship at Wolfson College Oxford, before returning to Cambridge to become a reader in commonwealth and post-colonial literature at the Faculty of English.

In 1997 Quayson was appointed director of the Center of African studies at the University of Cambridge. He was the first African scholar to hold the position, and in 2004 became the first Black person to acquire full tenure in the eight hundred years of history of the University. He served as a fellow of Pembroke College and is the founding editor of the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial literary inquiry. 

While at Cambridge, Dr Quayson’s devoted himself to uplifting young African scholars and getting them a place in Cambridge. During his tenure as the Director of the Center of African studies, Quayaon raised funds to create opportunities for Africa-based scholars to come and participate in the rich intellectual life at the University of Cambridge. He managed to secure £500,000 pounds to endow an African Visiting Scholars Scheme that brought scholars annually from the continent for 6-month periods in Cambridge. These scholars were hosted by Wolfson College.

Dr Quayson is a star academic in the field of literary studies whose works on African and Postcolonial literature, urban studies, modern diaspora, and transnational studies have been published and recognised widely. He has published six monographs and edited volumes.

Quayson’s monographs include Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice, or Process? (2000), Calibrations: Reading for the Social (2003), Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation (2007) and Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism (2014), which was a co-winner at Urban History Association’s 2015 Best Book Prize (non-North America) and was recognised in The Guardian as one of the 10 Best Books on Cities in 2014. 

Quayson’s most recent book, Tragedy and Postcolonial literature (2021) was awarded the Warren-Brooks award for outstanding work in literary scholarship. He has also lectured widely in Europe, Canada, the United States, Singapore, Turkey, Hongkong, Australia and other places. 

Among his many accolades, Dr Quayson was the founding Diirector of the Centre of Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto. He has held fellowships at the Du Bois Institute for African American Studies at Harvard, and the Research Centre in the Humanities at Australian National University. Quayson is also the past president of the African Studies Association and is an elected fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada, and the British Academy. 

Quayson’s dedication to the promotion, preservation, and accessibility of knowledge is what makes him a notable and one of the most important Black Cantab in the 21st century. His devotion to eliminating barriers to knowledge is evident through his YouTube channel, where he curates, critics, reads and discusses various topics in African literature, Urban studies, and the humanities.