Today we salute an old-fashioned novelist from the developing world, a wizard who uses Twitter to slow down time, a super-citizen who can shift the tone of a public debate with a few well-chosen words.
Teju Cole earned his literary bona fides all at once, when his debut novel Open City was compared to W. G. Sebald and celebrated by critics like James Wood. But he didn’t just hole up and start working on a second novel. Instead he brought his work directly to the masses with a Twitter project called “Small Fates,” in which he turned the latest news from his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria into condensed epics of human drama, just like Félix Fénéon did in Paris in 1906.
Since then he’s been crushing it—rewriting the opening lines of famous novels in order to question the morality of drone strikes; hilariously “updating” the dictionary along the lines of Flaubert and Ambrose Bierce; and using a deliberate misunderstanding to parody the rhetoric of international warmongering, among other projects. Cole’s work is a vital provocation, a cross between Colson Whitehead’s op-ed stunt pieces and Christopher Hitchens’ sage punditry. No one else writes such exciting Internet content and such enduring literature at the same time.
For writing fiction that wrestles with headlines, for making Twitter a place to slow down and think, and for giving us next-neighbors in Nigeria, Teju Cole, we love you.
– Brian Hurley