Professor Harrow to Retire After More Than 50 Years at MSU

When Ken Harrow, Distinguished Professor of English, began his career at Michigan State University in September 1966, John Hannah was President of the University, anti-Vietnam War protests were just beginning, and MSU shared the national championship in football with Notre Dame after the “Game of the Century” ended in a 10-10 tie.

While much has changed since then, one thing has remained consistent within MSU’s College of Arts & Letters and that is Harrow’s outstanding teaching and scholarship. His more-than-half-a-century career at MSU is now coming to a close, as he plans to retire at the end of May 2018.  

portrait of a man with long white hair and blue eyes
Dr. Ken Harrow, Distinguished Professor of English 

“I began my career as a comparatist working in contemporary European and American literature. Chance took me to north Africa and then sub-Saharan Africa, and I have remained an Africanist ever since. That was the most fortuitous thing that could have happened to me,” Harrow said. “Working with Africanist scholars on campus, and especially becoming a specialist in Africa, living in Senegal and Cameroon, provided me with the opportunity to have a rewarding career and life. I continue to work with publishers and journals, including MSU Press, in overseeing the publication of African scholarship in the Arts and Humanities.”

For nearly 52 years, Harrow has taught English and Humanities classes at Michigan State University, and from 1977 to 2017, he led a number of study abroad programs to France, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Senegal.

“I’ve enjoyed most of the challenges of engaging brilliant thinkers. I remember still, after 20 years or more, the way my students read Bhabha’s The Location of Culture and how they challenged Mbembe’s On the Postcolony,” Harrow said. “ Working with graduate students in class and with their dissertations represents a high point, where collaboration, mentoring, and advising becomes a challenge whose goal is to help someone create a new career for themselves. It is in reflecting on this that I want to exclaim, in these times, how vital, how absolutely vital, this intellectual enterprise is for us, for all of us in this country.” 

group poses for a photo
Ken Harrow (middle) with former students and colleagues. 

Harrow’s scholarship, which focuses on African cinema and literature, diaspora and postcolonial studies, is extensive. He has written four books, published 63 articles and 28 book chapters, and edited numerous collections. He has organized several conferences dealing with African literature and cinema. He also has presented and been invited to speak all over the world, but one of his more memorable presentations was one he gave to his own department on his latest book, Trash: African Cinema from Below.

"It is one thing for all of us to present our work to members in the academy who share our specialization, but at home, in the department, with people we know as real colleagues and friends, it is different,” Harrow said. “We don’t expect them to be familiar with our field and scholarship, or at least, not to be expert in it. But their opinions count in a very special way, and their support matters in a unique way, especially in cases where we have known each other for a long time.”

Throughout his career, Harrow has been recognized with many awards and fellowships, including the Distinguished Africanist Award presented at the Toyin Falola Annual Conference, African Studies Association Public Service Award, and MSU’s Paul Varg Alumni Award. In 2010, he received MSU’s Distinguished Faculty Award. He also served as President of the African Literature Association and was honored with their first Distinguished Member Award.

Working with Africanist scholars on campus, and especially becoming a specialist in Africa, living in Senegal and Cameroon, provided me with the opportunity to have a rewarding career and life.

Dr. ken harrow

Harrow was a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Younger Humanist Award recipient, which took him to France, Algeria, and Morocco. He also is a three-time Fulbright Senior Lecturer, for which he traveled to Cameroon and twice to Senegal.

Harrow received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and M.A. in English Literature, both from New York University. He also has a B.S. in Humanities and Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During his retirement, Harrow says he plans to continue his scholarship.

“I hope to be able to produce a book on African cinema and migration, to mount a website (with my children’s help) that will contain much of my writings as well as my commentaries that I’ve given over the years in my synagogue,” Harrow said. “Some of my earlier books have gone out of print, and I want to make them available in a public venue.”

Symposium to Honor Dr. Harrow

Harrow, without a doubt, leaves a lasting legacy with students and faculty at MSU, and to celebrate his retirement, a special symposium, titled “States of Refuge,” has been planned to honor his outstanding intellectual contributions and his service to the Department of English graduate program.

The symposium, scheduled for Friday, April 20, at MSU’s International Center, will bring back to campus several of Harrow’s former students and graduates of the Department of English graduate program who now hold academic positions. It is being organized by Professor of English Jyotsna Singh, a long-time colleague of Harrow, and one of Harrow’s former graduate students, Olabode Ibironke, who is now an Assistant Professor of English at Rutgers University.

Professor Harrow’s many publications on African cinema and literature, postcolonial theory, etc., have had a profound impact on several generations of students and scholars.

professor Jyotsna Singh

“Professor Harrow’s many publications on African cinema and literature, postcolonial theory, etc., have had a profound impact on several generations of students and scholars,” Singh said. “And in keeping with his research interests, we are focusing the symposium on dislocated people across the national boundaries, as represented in the literary and cultural texts of the Global South, including Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, among others.”

Event organizers look forward to a rich discussion on the conditions and cycles of displacement, migration, and often of return, of populations of the Global South represented in literature, cinema, and history of these regions.

“As we live in a divisive age around the world, in which large numbers of people have been displaced or disempowered, we believe this conference will highlight those conditions as well as examine possible solutions,” Singh said. “We also hope to showcase the diversity of our graduate program, since the participants at the symposium, all former graduate students of Professor Harrow, represent diverse perspectives, cultures, histories, nationalities, and theoretical affiliations.”