Born a Muslim in Saint-Louis, Senegal, Diop attended a koranic school but his aunts also taught him to read the Bible. After receiving his secondary education at the Lycée Faidherbe in Saint-Louis, Senegal, he continued his studies in Algeria and at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he went in 1937. He took a position as professor of classical literature in Paris and after World War II represented Senegal in the French senate, to which he was elected in 1946.
In 1947 he founded in Paris the influential journal Présence Africaine, to promoting African cultural identity and the liberation of peoples of Africa and the African diaspora. This was followed by the establishment of Présence Africaine Editions, which became a leading publishing house for African authors.
Aside from his publishing initiatives he was a key figure in many anti-colonial and African cultural interventions. He founded the Société Africaine de Culture in 1956 and that same year was principal organizer of the first international Congress of Black Writers and Artists, held in Paris, which attracted artists and writers from across the world, including Pablo Picasso and Claude Lévi-Strauss. In 1966, together with Léopold Sédar Senghor he organized the first World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar (1er Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres, also called FESMAN); among its many participants were Josephine Baker, Aimé Césaire, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes and André Malraux).
Diop died in Paris aged 70 in 1980.
A literary prize in his honour, the Prix International Alioune Diop, was established in 1982.
- "Biography of Alioune DIOP", African Success.