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Aku Kadogo papers, 1971-2018

 Collection — Box: 1-5, OS 1-6
Identifier: 0000-0000-0000-0160

Scope and Contents

The collection documents the multifaceted career of Aku Kadogo as a director, performer, choreographer, and educator. The Aku Kadogo papers span the years from 1975 to 2018, with the bulk of the collection dating from 1978 to 2004. It is comprised of personal papers, productions, photographs, and audiovisual materials.

The Productions Series is the largest series in the collection documenting Kadogo’s work as a director, performer, choreographer, and educator. This series also features original works created by Aku, including Boisterous Oysters, Hope, and OTL. This series also includes one of Kadogo's earlier performances, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange. Furthermore, the Production Series includes the diverse cities and countries in which Kadogo taught, performed, and directed.

The personal papers, photographs, and audio-visual series contain a smaller volume of materials about Kadogo. There are articles both authored by and written about Kadogo. Memorabilia is comprised of programs, posters, and autographed books, while the audio-visual materials primarily consist of CDs, DVDs, and scrapbooks that document Kadogo's numerous productions.


  • Creation: 1971-2018

Rights statement

All materials in this collection are either protected by copyright and/or are the property of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc., and/or the copyright holder as appropriate. For more information, please contact

Biographical note

Aku Kadogo, originally born Karen Vest, is from Detroit, Michigan, and was raised by her activist and performer parents, Don and Hilda Vest. During her childhood, Kadogo's mother instilled a sense of civic engagement by encouraging her participation in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, while both her parents exposed her to a rich tapestry of cultural events throughout the city.

Kadogo's educational journey began at Cass Technical High School, where she specialized in the Performing Arts Department from 1969 to 1972. Disappointed with her high school department, she sought additional enrichment at the now-defunct Concept East Theatre during her final year of high school, where she secured her maiden acting role – an inaugural step into the world of professional performance with Sonia Sanchez's Sister Sonji. Following her high school graduation, Kadogo furthered her education at New York University (NYU) from 1972 to 1976. It was during her time at NYU that she changed her name to "Aku," signifying "Wednesday born" in Ghana's Ewe language, while her surname, "Kadogo," derived from Swahili, translates to "small beautiful one."

Kadogo's artistic journey transcended borders as she educated and performed in countries like Australia, Senegal, Cuba, Brazil, Hong Kong, and South Korea. During her final year at NYU, she had an encounter that would shape her career. Meeting Ntozake Shange and Paula Moss at Dianne McIntyre's Sounds in Motion Dance Studio, Kadogo was selected to portray the "Lady in Yellow" in the groundbreaking production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, premiering in 1976. The cast included renowned figures like Lynn Whitfield and Alfre Woodard. This production went on tour in Australia from February to July 1978, under the direction of Oz Scott, staging performances in various cities, including Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Townsville, Cairns, and Brisbane. It was during this tour that Kadogo's love for Australia blossomed, leading her to reside there for approximately two decades.

In 1988, Kadogo was a part of the African Dance Group, a four-woman dance troupe that delivered AKWANSO (Fly South) for the Adelaide Festival of Arts, directed by Robyn Archer at The Space Theatre in the Adelaide Festival Centre. The group, comprising Pitjantjatjara dancer/actor Lillian Crombie, Ghanaian-Australian dancer/actor/storyteller Dorinda Hafner, and Jamaican Jigzie Campbell, shared their personal stories of racial prejudice, followed by a collective dance choreographed by Mary Barnett of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Kadogo assumed the role of artistic director at the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney during the 1990s, where she collaborated with Aboriginal dancers and directed numerous significant works, including Ochre & Dust (2000), commissioned by the Perth and Adelaide Festivals. This production, with set design by Fiona Foley, also graced the South Pacific Festival in Noumea, New Caledonia. Kadogo directed a production of Salt City, a techno-choreopoem based on the work by Jessica Care Moore, celebrating Black culture in Detroit and the origins of techno music. The show was staged in 2017 and 2019.

Transitioning to academia, during a 2005 visit to the United States, Kadogo was appointed as the director of the Black Theatre Program at Wayne State University, a position she held from 2006 to 2011. Following her tenure at Wayne State, she assumed the role of visiting professor at Yongin University in Seoul, South Korea. In 2014, Kadogo was honored with the title of Spelman College William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professor in the Arts, and as of 2019, she served as the chair of the Department of Theatre and Performance at Spelman College.

Kadogo's educational philosophy, "rhythm science," was developed during her time in Australia, emphasizing the universality of musical breaks across all genres to aid her students in comprehending rhythm and movement.


8 Linear feet (5 manuscript boxes and 6 oversize boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged into four series: 1. Personal Papers; 2. Productions; 3. Photographs; and 4. Audio/Visual. All of the series are further divided into sub-series. The contents of the series are arranged alphabetically. See series notes for more details.

Aku Kadogo Papers, 1971-2018
Finding aid prepared by Stacy Jones, 2023 November
November 2023
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc. Repository


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