“Zadie Smith has been a vital literary voice since her first novel, White Teeth, became an instant bestseller. [In The Observer,] she answers questions from famous fans, including Teju Cole, Philip Pullman and Sharmaine Lovegrove, and a selection of our readers” — The Observer
Former American novelist reveals what he’s been doing since giving up writing back in 2010.
In an engaging email interview conducted by Charles McGrath of The New York Times, former American novelist Philip Roth reveals what he’s been doing since giving up writing back in 2010. He is in good health, and now spends most of his time living in his Upper West Side apartment in New York, meeting with friends and attending concerts — the Connecticut home where he wrote his novels remains unoccupied until the summer months. He has spent the past few years working closely with an official biographer, Blake Bailey, and supervising the final volume of the Library of America edition of his work.
The retired writer has also been watching the major developments unfolding across American culture. Roth identifies the current political moment in America as unprecedented in its history, and doesn’t mince words when describing the current President of the United States: he calls him a “massive fraud” who is “devoid of everything but the hollow ideology of a megalomaniac”. Roth also says that he was unsurprised by the abuses of power revealed in the wake of the MeToo movement. (more…)
“It’s getting closer. This aspect of my work — writing for the public and making images — has been going on for about a dozen years, and in that time I’ve understood more and more that all of it is of a piece. I used to think they were really separate. Now I realize that looking at the world, making images, writing about images, writing about things that are not images, all of it is an attempt to testify to having been here and seen certain things, having looked at the world with a kind eye but an eye that is not ignoring questions of justice and history. And that’s why Blind Spot is a book of text and images.”
RO Kwon (The Guardian) on Blind Spot, the new work by writer, art historian, and photographer Teju Cole:
“I was initially drawn to Blind Spot less for its 150-plus photos from dozens of countries than for its text, the short paragraph or two – at times, just a couple of sentences – accompanying each image. […] During his travels, he used his camera as an extension of his memory. ‘The images are a tourist’s pictures,’ he says, but it wasn’t until he ‘began to match words to these interconnected images’ that this book came to life.”
As spring arrives in Cardiff, I divide my time between teaching responsibilities and reading. This week marks the final week of semester before Easter break. In my spare time, I am reading Marilynne Robinson‘s 2005 novel, Gilead. And in light of Teju Cole‘s essay collection, Known and Strange Things, I have have also been keen to return to his breakthrough novel, Open City.
Over the weekend, I watched an interesting documentary on the life and work of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The film was produced for BBC’s Horizon series back in 1989, and in just under 49 minutes manages to mount an engaging profile of the twentieth-century thinker. The film includes interviews, anecdotes, and rare photographs of the people and places connected to the philosopher’s life. All in all, it’s a good general primer. For those interested in finding out more about Wittgenstein’s life, Ray Monk‘s excellent biography, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, is the place to go.
Teju Cole, Known and Strange Things: Essays (Faber and Faber, 2016)
In his recent collection of essays, Known and Strange Things, Nigerian-American writer and photographer Teju Cole reflects on the poetry of Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer: “the strongest associations he brings to mind are the music of Arvo Pärt and the photographs of Saul Leiter.”
A call for papers for a panel at the upcoming ACLA conference in Utrecht, July 2017
This sounds interesting. Tom Chadwick has been in touch about something he is organizing for next year’s ACLA conference at Universiteit Utrecht in the Netherlands. He and co-organizer Pieter Vermeulen are putting together a panel exploring the relationship between contemporary literature and the archive, and they want to hear from you!(more…)
Is there one book that’s affected you tremendously or changed your life?
Let me suggest a book called Here Is Where We Meet. It’s by a writer called John Berger. It was pretty life-changing for me. It’s a collection of short stories; it has eight and a half short stories. They’re all based on life, but they’re all fiction. It’s the way that he handles that fictionality that really affected my writing.John Berger is quite an old man; he’s in his eighties. What he does in these stories is, he’ll write a story about someone he once knew who is now dead. He tells true stories about how he knows them or what they mean to him, but the stories are about encounters he has with them after they’ve died. Things like meeting his long-dead mother in Lisbon and going for a walk with her. It feels very diaristic and very real. The porousness of that border between what we can prove, what’s easily accessible, and what takes more face and openness — it was really interesting to me, how he handled that. He doesn’t take it from a religious point of view at all. [Read More]
“I think the big musical moment happened for me in my second year of college, after I went to the US. That was when I really got into both jazz and classical, at the same time. I was amazed at how well certain things held up to repeated listenings: Coltrane, Mahler, Beethoven. Not long after came ‘world music’, and I had a similarly stunned reaction to my first encounters with the likes of Ali Farka Touré and Oumou Sangaré.”
Claudia Rankine (The New York Times) reviews a collection of the writer and photographer’s essays
Teju Cole’s captivating and lauded novels, “Open City” and “Every Day Is for the Thief,” reflect his identity as a writer with a global perspective — born in the United States and raised in Nigeria. His international access as an author, art historian and photographer — one who also teaches and is a photography critic for The New York Times Magazine — shapes not only his obsessions but, in a chicken-and-egg sense, determines his gaze. He takes in news from African countries and American cities; but also, by necessity and interest, Asian, European and Latin American culture and history. In short, the world belongs to Cole and is thornily and gloriously allied with his curiosity and his personhood. “Known and Strange Things,” his first collection of nonfiction, journeys through all the landscapes he has access to: international, personal, cultural, technological and emotional. When he feels homesick, he informs us in this book, he “visits” his parents in Nigeria through Google maps — a sweet if distant form of connection. (more…)
Taiye Selasi talks to writer, photographer, and essayist Teju Cole for The Guardian
Taiye Selasi: When you were last in Berlin we had a conversation, with Binyavanga Wainaina, about how a writer arrives at a given piece of text. I’d just read one of your Instagram captions, which, like much of your prose, seemed to have flowed perfectly formed from top of mind to tip of finger. “It so clearly comes so easily,” I marvelled, not without some envy. You smiled, and asked, “How do you know?” How do we know that the casually composed photograph, the hastily written paragraph, is the fruit of instantaneous revelation and not of assiduous labour? Is perhaps part of the genius of all great artists their ability to hide their sweat?
Teju Cole: Trick question there. I’m not going to say anything about what a genius does, because how would I know? I do find it very helpful to remain aware of contingency, in my own work and in that of others. Nothing about the making should be taken for granted. If I think of a writer whose work I admire for its fluency, I want to resist the temptation to assume it’s easier for her to get there than it would be for me. I’ve learned to suppose “this much excellence” is accompanied by “this much labour”. Sprezzatura, no? Though the temptation to think it comes easily to some people never goes away. [Read More]
Contemporary writer Teju Cole reflects on the striking use of form and colour in the work of twentieth-century American photographer
Leiter was perhaps the most interesting of the fifties color photographers in his use of form. His bold chromaticism, off-center composition, and frequent use of vertical framing attracted attention—the work reminded people of Japanese painting and Abstract Expressionism—and he was included in “Always the Young Strangers,” an exhibition curated by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art in 1953. But Leiter didn’t court fame, and though he continued to work, his photographs almost vanished from public view. Then they came back to light in 2006, with “Saul Leiter: Early Color,” a monograph published by Steidl. The book brought him belated recognition, gallery representation, a stream of publications, and a new generation of fans. [Read More]
Back in April, Sarah Werkmeister interviewed Indonesian writer Aan Mansyur for the Emerging Writers Festival. Here is what he had to say…
Tell us about your writing style. What are your influences, passions and the messages that you try to convey in your work?
I write poems and prose. In every piece I write, I’m trying to say different things in different ways. I often think that writing is how I discover things, rather than an exercise in telling readers things I already know.
What are some of the challenges you face in the writing process, and what tips would you give to aspiring writers to overcome these?
I’m a lazy writer. I like to spend my time reading books instead of writing. I also can’t write in crowded places unlike other writers, although I live in library which is quite packed with visitors. I try to allocate two to three hours daily at early dawn while everyone else is still asleep, to read books I admire and recommendations from my favorite authors. This is how I learn and a solution to my laziness. Reading books is good, they make me feel haunted and keep me awake so I ended up writing. (more…)
An extract from James Wood’s 2011 review of Open City for the New Yorker
Publishers now pitch their books like Hollywood concepts, so Teju Cole’s first novel, “Open City” (Random House; $25), is being offered as especially appealing to “readers of Joseph O’Neill and Zadie Smith,” and written in a prose that “will remind you” of W. G. Sebald and J. M. Coetzee. This is shorthand for “post-colonialism in New York” (O’Neill), “lively multiracial themes” (Smith), “free-flowing form with no plot, narrated by a scholarly solitary walker” (Sebald), “obviously serious” (Coetzee), and “finely written” (all of the above). There is the additional comedy that Cole’s publishers, determined to retain the baby with the bathwater, boldly conjoin Smith and O’Neill, despite Smith’s hostility, advertised in an essay entitled “Two Paths for the Novel,” to O’Neill’s expensive and upholstered “lyrical realism.”