Fred Moten

American poet, critic and theorist inspiring a generation of artists

Moten’s writing is an acknowledged influence on artists including Arthur Jafa, Glenn Ligon, Sondra Perry and Theaster Gates, with whom he shares a need to celebrate the radical traditions and rearticulate the contemporary experience of black Americans. His most widely read text is The Undercommons (2013), a collection of essays cowritten with Stefano Harvey that critiques academia and proposes, among other things, that ‘talking and walking around with other people, working, dancing, suffering’ be recognised as intellectual activity. Moten opens up the field of knowledge by entangling different practices and cultures – his discursive lyrical style shifting in the blink of an eye from Charles Mingus to Hannah Arendt to David Hammons – and so the form as well as the content deliver one of his key messages: that blackness is resistant, ‘fugitive’ and irreducible to a fixed category. It’s unsurprising then that he writes beautifully on jazz: describing disruptive patterns, making improvisatory connections and imagining a world reordered through the senses.