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Kenneth W. Harrow (1943-2024)

In Memoriam
Kenneth W. Harrow

We deeply mourn the passing of Kenneth W. Harrow, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Literature and Film Studies at Michigan State University where he taught for 52 years. A specialist in African cinema, Professor Harrow has had a massive impact on African literary and cultural studies, consistently pushing against tired orthodoxies and easy approaches to understanding African cultural forms. His research has been roving and daring, motored by a love for African literature and film, intellectual curiosity, and seemingly endless energy. He published six single-authored books, 10 edited and co-edited volumes, and approximately 100 articles and book chapters. Ken’s contributions to African Studies includes organizing numerous conferences dealing with African literature and cinema, including twice the African Literature Association’s annual conference: once on the theme of theory in the field of African literary studies in 1986, and a second in 1997 on African cinema. He served as President of the African Literature Association (ALA) and was honored with its first Distinguished Member Award in 2009. Along with many other awards, he most recently received the prestigious African Studies Association’s Distinguished Africanist Award in 2023. For the last few years, he has been the general editor for the series “African Humanities and the Arts” for Michigan State University Press. Professor Harrow also served as the inaugural Film Reviews Editor for African Studies Review, the journal of the African Studies Association (ASA). In addition to introducing film reviews to the journal, he created the ASA Film Prize to promote African films and filmmakers and served as the Chair of the Prize Committee for several years.  Professor Harrow also inaugurated the first African Film Caucus of the African Literature Association. Over the years, he helped bring many African filmmakers to the US to screen and promote their art, including John Akomfrah, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Djibril Diop Mambéty. 

Ken was a tireless advocate and beloved advisor for countless colleagues and students around the world. His generosity was boundless. With enthusiasm and rigor, he read and commented on drafts of his students’ dissertation chapters, book chapters, grant proposals, and articles in record time and through multiple iterations.  He introduced his graduate students to the ALA and ASA by organizing panels with them and even, when possible, driving his van, packed full with graduate students, to the annual conferences. Ken was a doting and loving father figure to all his international students.  He gave them home not only in that old office in the basement of Morrill Hall, but also in his beautiful blue house on Daisy Lane.  Nothing would beat the cold weather of Michigan than the annual Thanksgiving Dinner Chez les Harrow as Ken used to call it. Post 9/11, he immediately and consistently reached out and supported his Muslim students during the general backlash against Arabs and Muslims in Lansing. Today, all of Ken’s students are mourning the loss of their mentor, father, and friend.


Kenneth Wettroth Harrow (80) passed away on Sunday April 14th, 2024. His wife Liz (Elizabeth Wettroth Harrow) was with him. Ken lived a life full of curiosity, energy, and determination. He was a deeply beloved son, brother, cousin, husband, father, grandfather, friend, scholar, mentor, and peace and human rights activist.

Ken was born in 1943 in New York, the grandson of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe, to Louis and Miriam Harrow.  He and his older sister Alice grew up with a large extended family in the Bronx and then later Mount Vernon. He went to college at MIT and graduate school at NYU before joining the Michigan State University faculty.

While in Boston, Ken met his first wife Carol Spiegelman, with whom he had his first two children, Alexander and Sharon. Ken and Liz married in 1977 and soon after Aram and Joseph were born. He is also survived by Alex’s wife Vivian, Sharon’s husband Fabio Pinat, Aram’s wife Shefali Oza, Joseph’s wife Ilana, and his six grandchildren: Max, Miriam, Lucille, Evren, Felix and Ayla.

Ken was a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Literature and Film Studies at Michigan State University where he taught for 52 years. He published six single-authored books and many edited books, articles and book chapters. Ken worked hard to build community in the field of African Studies, both at his home where he and Liz welcomed countless students and colleagues, and through his work organizing conferences, creating film prizes, and holding leadership roles in the African Literature Association and the African Studies Association (ASA). In 2023 Ken received the prestigious ASA’s Distinguished Africanist Award. Over the years, he helped bring many African filmmakers to the US to screen and promote their art, and was a tireless advocate and beloved advisor.

Ken was an active member of Congregation Kehillat Israel, where he would deliver creative and provocative dvarim, often finding ways to tie together Jewish texts with his work in African literature.

Ken volunteered for many years with the human rights organization Amnesty International, where he served as the Country Specialist on Burundi and Rwanda since 1993. His work included advocacy, research, and service as an expert witness for refugees.

Ken was a lifelong runner, hiker, biker and whatever else would get him and the family out to see new places. Ken, Liz and the kids spent many summers and years in Senegal, Cameroon, London and France, and in 2007 they bought a place in Sussargues, France where he and Liz welcomed family and friends.

He leaves behind an incredibly close extended and intentional family and he will be missed dearly.

Donations in honor of Ken can be made to the Ken Harrow ASA Film Fund