Professor Ato Quayson

University Professors 2016
Faculty of Arts & Science,
Department of English
Research Interests:
African literature, post-colonial diaspora studies, urban studies and literary theory


Ato Quayson completed his degree in English and Arabic with a First Class Honors in 1989 at the University of Ghana, Legon. He was admitted to Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge in 1991 to read for his PhD in English. He was awarded his doctoral from Cambridge in 1995 for his dissertation on Nigerian literary history from the late nineteenth century to the late late twentieth century. He won a Stipendiary Junior Research Fellowship at Wolfson College in Oxford in 1994 and cut short the originally 3-year fellowship on being appointed Lecturer in Commonwealth Literature in the Faculty of English at Cambridge from September 1995. He was also appointed to a Fellowship at Pembroke College, and in 1997 as Director of the Centre of African Studies at the University.

Quayson received his tenure at Cambridge in 1998 and was subsequently promoted Reader in Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literatures in 2004. He holds the distinction of having been the first and until now the only black person to have gained full tenure in the entire 800+ history of the University of Cambridge.

Quayson moved to the University of Toronto in September 2005 to become Professor of English and the inaugural director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies. He has been Chief Examiner in English for the International Baccalaureate and a member of the European Research Council.

He has published widely and contributed to several fields. His 14 books so far include 5 monographs, namely: Strategic Transformations in Nigerian Writing (1997; already mentioned), Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice, or Process? (Polity/Blackwell, 2000), Calibrations: Reading for the Social (Minnesota University Press, 2003), Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation (Columbia University Press, 2007), and Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism (Duke University Press, 2014). His major edited collections include African Literary Theory: An Anthology of Literary Criticism and Theory (with Tejumola Olaniyan; Blackwell, 2007), the 2-volume Cambridge History of Postcolonial Literature (2012), the Companion to Diaspora and Transnationalism (with Girish Daswani; Blackwell, 2013), and the Cambridge Companion to the Postcolonial Novel (2016). He is founding editor of the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, and is currently working on a new book provisionally titled On Postcolonial Tragedy that takes a sweep of tragedy and tragic philosophy from the Greeks through Shakespeare to the present day and explores key themes on the links between suffering and ethics through postcolonial examples.

Quayson has won several honors and awards. These include Cambridge Commonwealth Scholar (1991-1994), member of the Cambridge Commonwealth Society (1995-), Fellow of the Du Bois Institute for African-American Studies at Harvard (2004), Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006-), and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (2013). He was also Corneille Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Humanities Wellesley College (2011-2012). In 2009 he was awarded a SSHRC Standard Research Grant for his interdisciplinary research on urban Accra that produced Oxford Street, Accra. Oxford Street was co-winner of the Urban History Association’s Best Book Prize (non-North American category) in 2015. The book is also being featured in a special forum on “Concepts and Methodologies” in the Proceedings of the Modern Languages Association (PMLA) in March 2016.