Headshot of James Ford III
Mary Jane Hewitt Department Chair in Black Studies; Associate Professor, English and Black Studies
B.A., Morehouse College; M.A., Ph.D, University of Notre Dame
Department Chair, Black Studies
Appointed In
Swan Hall #224
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:30am - 1:00pm
James Edward Ford III’s teaching and scholarship focus on three fields: The Aesthetics of Black Radicalism; Black Popular Culture; and Western Political Thought.

Ford’s several book projects bring these various fields into conversation. His first book, Thinking through Crisis: Depression-Era Black Literature, Theory and Politics, claims that Humanities scholars have understated the ways that agency can irrupt from traumatic experience. Ford uses Black radical writing from the 1930s as a test case for a new approach to theorizing trauma.

While Thinking through Crisis attends to 1930s Black writing to intervene in theoretical debates, Ford’s second and third books hope to reinterpret the arc of Black American cultural production. Phillis, the Black Swan: Disheveling the Origins of African American Letters, studies how Phillis Wheatley’s poetry and correspondence imagines humanity outside the doubled tyranny of political slavery and chattel slavery. In Hip-Hop’s Late Style: Liner Notes to an Aesthetic Theory, Ford reframes hip-hop as an experiment with various styles of life that might survive the end of the American century. Rather than focus on a single “Golden Era” of Black American life, Ford’s several books investigate Black America’s creative endurance over and against the ebb and flow of American imperial power.

Ford teaches American literature and African American literature in the English Departments and Black Studies major, respectively. He teaches with a “B-sides approach” that incorporates literary classics and lesser known literary works into all of his syllabi. In doing so, he introduces students to the vastness of Black writing in terms of content, genre, and historical context. Some of his most popular courses include Beautiful Democracy: 19th Century African American LiteratureAfro-FuturismJoyful Noise: Black Literature and Black Musicality, and American Poetry, Politics, and Pleasure.

Education | Academic Positions | Research Interests | Publications | Conferences Activities & Lectures
Teaching | Awards | Professional Membership | References


Degree History

Ph.D, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana (2009)
M.A., University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana (2006)
B.A., Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia (2003)

Non-Degree Seminar

“Black Intellectuals,” School of Criticism and Theory, Cornell University (Spring 2006)

Academic Positions

Associate Professor, Occidental College (2018 – Present)
Assistant Professor, Occidental College (2012 – 2018)
Adjunct Professor, Occidental College (2010 – 2012)

Research Interests

Late 19th to Mid-20th Century African American Literature, Aesthetics of Black Radicalism, W.E.B. Du Bois Studies, Marxist Thought, Aesthetic Philosophy, Black Popular Culture


Work in Print

“Thinking through Crisis: Depression-Era African American Literature, History, and Politics,” “Commonalities” Series, Ed. by Timothy Campbell, Fordham University Press (2019)

“The Sound of Breaking: On Experimental Writing, Sound Studies, and Hip-Hop,” Critical forum on Carter Mathes’ Imagine the Sound: Experimental African American Literature After Civil Rights, Ed. Tyler Bradway, College Literature (Winter 2019)

“On Black Study and Political Theology,” Cultural Critique Issue 101, Ed. Caesar Caesarino (Fall 2018)

“The Difficult Miracle: Reading Phillis Wheatley Against the Master’s Discourse,” New Centennial Review, Ed. Nahum Chandler (Fall 2018)

“An African Diasporic Critique of Violence: Walter Benjamin and Phillis Wheatley Reading the Niobe Legend,” Systems of Life: Politics, Economics, and the Biological Sciences, 1750-1850, Ed. Timothy Campbell, Richard Barney and Warren Montag, Fordham University Press (2018)

“The Imperial Miracle: Black Reconstruction and the End(s) of White Supremacy,” The Political Companion to W.E.B. Du Bois, Ed. Nick Bromell, University of Kentucky Press

“Interrupting the System: Spinoza and Maroon Thought,” Spinoza’s Authority: Resistance and Power, Ed. A Kordela Kiarina and Dimitri Vardoulakis, Northwestern University Press (2017)

“Morbid Perseverance: The Internal Border and White Supremacy,” Balibar and the Citizen-Subject, Ed. Hanan Sayed and Warren Montag, University of Edinburgh Press (2017)

“W.E.B. Du Bois,” Oxford Bibliographies Series, Literary and Critical Theory, (Summer 2017)

“Ida B. Wells,” Oxford Bibliographies Series, African American Studies, (Summer 2016)

“Introduction: Fugitivity and the Filmic Imagination,” Dossier in Black Camera (Fall 2015)

“Blackness and Legend: Django Unchained and Ensemble Film Performance,” in “Fugitivity and the Filmic Imagination” Dossier in Black Camera (Fall 2015)

“On the Novel and Civic Myth: A Review of Salamishah Tillet’s Sites of Slavery,”  Novel: A Forum on Fiction, (Fall 2015)

“Space is the Place: Afrofuturist Elegy in Tracy K Smith’s Life on Mars,” Black Scholar, Paradigm Press, “Struggles for Democracy” Special Issue (Spring 2014)

“Down by the Riverside: Race, Class, and the Drive for Citizenship,” Novel: A Forum for Fiction, Duke University Press (Fall 2013)

“From Being to Unrest, From Objectivity to Motion: The Slave in Karl Marx’s Capital,” Rethinking Marxism (January 2011)

“Mob Rule in New Orleans: Anarchy, Governance, and Media Representation,” Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 33.1 (Winter 2010), special issue, “Personal Narratives and Political Discourse,” Ed. by Sidonie Smith

Work Accepted, Forthcoming

“Anti-Anti-Racism and the American Assumption,” Symposium on Andrew Douglas’s W.E.B. Du Bois and the Critique of the Competitive Society, Political Theory (Forthcoming 2020)

“Stanklove: Hearing Outkast’s Afro-Futurist Erotics,” Outkasted Conversations: A Hip-Hop Studies Reader, Ed. Regina Bradley, University of Georgia Press (Forthcoming Fall 2020)

Work in Progress

Book Projects

“Hip-Hop’s Late Style: Liner Notes to an Aesthetic Theory,” claims that debates over the “death” of U.S. hip-hop are displaced anxieties about the foreclosure of the American Century. By theorizing hip-hop as a form of “late style,” I claim that hip-hop offers insights into a style of life that can survive this moment of sociopolitical transition. (Projected completion: 2024)

“Phillis, the Black Swan: Disheveling the Origins of African Diasporic Writing” restores the untimely, restless, radical force of Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects by dismantling Thomas Jefferson’s infamous rejection of her poetry and clarifying her primary aim: to redefine humanity beyond the double tyranny of political oppression and chattel slavery. (Projected completion: 2028)

Select Conference Activities and Lectures

“The Slave in Karl Marx’s Capital, Revisited,” MLA Annual Conference (Jan 10, 2020)

“Learning the Corrupted Tongue: Phillis Wheatley, the University, and the Politics of Diasporic Return,” MLA Annual Conference, Chicago (Jan 6, 2019)

“Disheveling the Origins: Impossible Canonicity in African Diasporic Writing,” Fellowship Colloquium, Library Company of Philadelphia, (May 17, 2017)

“The Difficult Miracle: Reading Wheatley Against the Master’s Discourse,” Young Scholars Lecture Series, University of California Consortium for Black Studies in California, UC Irvine, (April 28, 2016)

“Beyond the Land of the Living, All Things are Possible: Spiritual Zombiehood and Re-Animation in U.S. Hip-Hop Culture,” Show and Prove Hip-Hop Conference, U.C. Riverside, 2016 (April 8, 2016)

“‘Concerning Violence’: Lauryn Hill, Frantz Fanon, and Anticolonial Inheritance,” Affect Theory Conference, Millersville University (Oct 17, 2015)

“The Frenzy: Ecstasy and Hip-Hop Aesthetics” American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting (March 28, 2015)

“Good Kid in the M.A.A.D. City: LA Hip-Hop and the Afro-Surreal”, on the panel, “The Pleasures and Pains of Hip-Hop Listening,” American Studies Association Annual Meeting (Nov 9, 2014)

“Interruption of the System: Spinoza and Maroon Thought,” American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting (March 21, 2014)

“A Dream Deferred or the Dream in Deferral? Hip-Hop’s Chopped and Screwed Aesthetics”, “Psi #19: Now Then: Performance and Temporality,” Stanford University (June 26, 2013)

“Listening to The Love Below: Hip-Hop’s Afro-futuristic Eroticism,” at Alien Bodies: Race, Space, and Sex in the African Diaspora Conference, Emory University (February 8, 2013)

“An African Diasporic Critique of Violence: The Niobe Legend in the Writing of Walter Benjamin and Phillis Wheatley,” “System of Life: Economies, Politics, and the Biological Sciences, 1750 – 1850,” Huntington Library (Nov 8, 2012)

“An Ode to the Raw: Dissonance in Hip-Hop Aesthetics,” Presented on the panel “Wu Tang Across the Eras” Show and Prove Hip-Hop Studies Conference, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University (March 29 -31, 2012)

“‘Shadows of Tomorrow’: Hip-Hop Aesthetics and the Archive,” Presented on the Panel “Theorizing Hip-Hop as Intellectual Production” at the Annual MLA Conference, Seattle (January 2012)

“Contemporary Hip-Hop Aesthetics and the Tragedy of US Imperialism,” Presented on Panel, “The World is Yours: On Hip-hop and Global Liberation,” Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora, University of Pittsburgh (November 2011)

“Interruption of the System: Negri, Spinoza and Maroon Political Desire,” Rethinking Marxism Conference: New Marxian Times, UMASS at Amherst (November 2009)

“The ‘Coming of the Lord’: W.E.B Du Bois’s John Brown and the Rethinking of Messianism,” John Brown Symposium, Harpers Ferry, WV (October 2009)

“Mob Rule in New Orleans and Ida B Wells’s Critique of Anarchy,” Rupture, Repression, and Uprising: Raced and Gendered Violence in the 20th Century, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (April 2008)

Selected Teaching
  • “Joyful Noise: On Black Literature and Black Musicality,” Lower-Level English/Black Studies Course, Occidental College
  • “American Poetry, Pleasure, and Politics,” Upper-Level English Course, Occidental College
  • “The Evolution of W.E.B. Du Bois,” Graduate School Course, Cultural Studies Department, Claremont Graduate University
  • “Phillis Wheatley and Her Afterlives,” Junior English Seminar, Occidental College
  • “American Literature, From the Founding – 1900: On Tyranny and Anti-tyrannical Writing,” Upper-Level English Course, Occidental College
  • “Literature and the Other Arts: Afrofuturism,” Upper-Level English Course, Occidental College
  • “Literary Methodologies,” Lower-Level English Seminar, Occidental College
  • “Beautiful Democracy: 19th Century Black Writing,” Upper-Level English/Black Studies Course, Occidental College
  • “The Global 1930s,” Upper-Level English Course, Occidental College English Department, Occidental College
  • “The Artist’s Life,” First Year Cultural Studies Program, Occidental College
  • “American Experiences: Rhetoric of War,” Lower Level English Course, Occidental College
  • “Hip Hop’s Late Style,” Lower-Level English Course, Occidental College
  • “Hip-Hop and Aesthetic Philosophy,” First Year Cultural Studies Course, Occidental College
  • “Black Reconstruction: Radicalism in African American Literature,” Lower-Level English Course, Occidental College
  • Donald and Mary Hyde Fellowship for Research in Early Modern Black Lives, 1500 – 1800 (Summer 2019, $3,600)
  • Faculty Enrichment Grant, Occidental College (Summer 2017, $2,000)
  • Short-Term Research Fellowship, Library Company of Philadelphia, (Summer 2017, $2,500)
  • Short-Term Research Fellowship, Friends of Princeton Library, (Summer 2016, $3,500)
  • Short-Term Research Fellowship, American Antiquarian Society (Summer 2016, $1,850) (Declined Award)
  • Mellon Digital Humanities Faculty Fellow, Center for Digital Learning and Research, Occidental College (Spring 2015)
  • Faculty Enrichment Grant, Occidental College, (Fall 2015)
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Mellon Curricular Planning Fellowship, Occidental College (Fall 2011 – Summer 2012)
  • Summer Fellow, Mellon Fellowship for Digital Scholarship Institute, Occidental College (Summer 2011)
Professional Memberships
American Studies Association (ASA)
American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA)
Society for Novel Studies (SNS)
Modern Language Association (MLA)
Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD)
Dr. Stephanie Batiste, English and Black Studies, U.C. Santa Barbara
Tel: (805) 893-8045, Email: sbatiste@english.ucsb.edu
Dr. Brent Hayes Edwards, English Department, Columbia University
Tel: (212) 854-2912, Email: bhe2@columbia.edu
Dr. Nahum Dimitri Chandler, School of Humanities, U.C. Irvine
Tel: (949) 824-1610, Email: n.d.chandler@uci.edu