Profile: Fred Moten (1962-)

Fred Moten is an American philosopher, poet and scholar whose work explores critical theory, black studies, and performance studies. Moten is professor of performance studies at New York University and has taught previously at University of California, Riverside, Duke University, Brown University, and the University of Iowa.


Fred Moten was born in Las Vegas in 1962 and was raised in the segregated black neighborhood on the western end of the city. His parents were among the black families that made up the Great Migration, the period in US history when many black families moved from the deep south to seek out new prospects in the northern and western parts of the country. His parents were originally from Louisiana and Arkansas and after resettling in Las Vegas, his father found employment at the Las Vegas Convention Center (and later worked for Pan American Airlines), and his mother worked as a grade school teacher.

Moten enrolled in Harvard University in 1980 hoping to pursue a degree in economics. His interest in sociopolitical discourse, the work of Noam Chomsky, civic outreach, and political activism led him away from his studies. At the end of his first year, Moten was required to take a year leave. During this time, he worked as a janitor at the Nevada Test Site, wrote poetry, and discovered the works of T.S. Eliot and Joseph Conrad, among many others. His return to Harvard was more successful and led to developing his understanding of prose and finding more inspiration for his own work. It was also during this time that he met his collaborator-to-be Stefano Harney. After graduating from Harvard, Moten went on to pursue his PhD at University of California, Berkeley.

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