|Born||Obayemi Babajide Adetokunbo Onafuwa
June 27, 1975
Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA
|Notable works||Open City|
|Notable awards||2012 PEN/Hemingway Award 2012 New York City Book Award for Fiction 2013 International Literature Award|
Biography and work
Cole was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan to Nigerian parents, and is the oldest of four children. Cole and his mother returned to Lagos, Nigeria shortly after his birth, where his father joined them after receiving his MBA from Western Michigan University. Cole moved back to the United States at the age of 17 to attend Western Michigan University for one year, then transferred to Kalamazoo College, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1996. After dropping out of medical school at the University of Michigan, Cole enrolled in an African art history program at the University of London, then pursued a doctorate in art history at Columbia University. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
He is the author of two books: a novella, Every Day is for the Thief (Nigeria: Cassava Republic, 2007; New York: Random House, 2014; London: Faber, 2014), and a novel, Open City (New York: Random House, 2012; London: Faber, 2012). He is currently the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College. From June to November 2014 he was 'writer in residence' of the Literaturhaus Zurich and the PWG Foundation in Zurich. Cole is a regular contributor to publications including The New York Times, Qarrtsiluni, Granta, The New Yorker, Transition, The New Inquiry, and A Public Space. He is currently at work on a book-length non-fiction narrative of Lagos. He is the photography critic of the New York Times Magazine.
Written in 2011, the novel focuses on "Nigerian immigrant Julius, a young graduate student studying psychiatry in New York City, has recently broken up with his girlfriend and spends most of his time dreamily walking around Manhattan. The majority of Open City centers on Julius’ inner thoughts as he rambles throughout the city, painting scenes of both what occurs around him and past events that he can’t help but dwell on. Ostensibly in search of his grandmother, Julius spends a number of weeks in Belgium, where he makes some interesting friends. Along the way, he meets many people and often has long discussions with them about philosophy and politics. He seems to welcome these conversations. Upon returning to New York, he meets a young Nigerian woman who profoundly changes the way he sees himself."
Open City was translated into ten languages and has received generally positive reviews from literary critics. James Wood in The New Yorker calls it a "beautiful, subtle, and, finally, original novel". According to The New York Times, "the novel’s importance lies in its honesty." The Independent characterizes Open City as "hypnotic", "transfixing", and a "striking debut" for Cole, while Time referred to the novel as "a profoundly original work, intellectually stimulating and possessing of a style both engaging and seductive."
After the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks, in which two French Muslim brothers of Algerian descent murdered twelve people and wounded a dozen more to "avenge the prophet", he wrote an article for the New Yorker in which he accused the French magazine of a "bullyingly racist agenda" using "perverse", "anti-Islam", and "violently racist" imagery, situating the Islamist atrocity "against the backdrop of France’s ugly colonial history, its sizable Muslim population, and the suppression, in the name of secularism, of some Islamic cultural expressions, such as the hijab." These accusations were contradicted by Le Monde, which pointed out that Charlie Hebdo had in fact not targeted Islam, by the president of France’s leading anti-racist organization, SOS Racisme, who on the contrary called Charlie Hebdo France's "greatest anti-racist weekly", and by the French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira who Cole mistakenly thought Charlie Hebdo had attacked (when in fact it had mocked Taubira's attackers).
In April of that year, during the controversy regarding American PEN’s decision to bestow its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo, he, alongside Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Peter Carey, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi, withdrew from the group’s annual awards gala. In a statement to The Intercept, he contrasted the Charlie Hebdo situation with Salman Rushdie, stating that the "L’affaire Rushdie (for example) was a very different matter, as different as blasphemy is from racism."  However Rushdie "slammed" critics of PEN's Charlie Hebdo tribute, calling them "pussies" and saying, "“If PEN as a free-speech organisation can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organisation is not worth the name.”
Awards and honors
- 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for Open City
- 2012 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award winner for Open City
- 2011 Time magazine's "Best Books of the Year" for Open City
- 2012 Ondaatje Prize shortlist for Open City
- 2012 The Morning News Tournament of Books finalist
- 2013 International Literature Award for the German-language translation by Christine Richter-Nilsson of Open City
- 2015 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize (Fiction) valued at $150,000
Every Day is for the Thief (2007, 2014)
Open City (2012)
Essays and reporting
- Cole, Teju (December 22–29, 2014). "Home". Inner Worlds. The New Yorker 90 (41): 95. Retrieved 2015-03-31.
- DeRitter, Margaret (September 2011). "From New Yorker Envy to Literary Acclaim". BeLight. Kalamazoo College. Archived from the original on 25 February 2015. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Bio. Teju Cole. Retrieved on 2012-03-06.
- Wood, James (28 February 2011). "The Arrival of Enigmas". The New Yorker. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
- DeRitter, Margaret (27 May 2011). "Teju Cole, a K-College grad, writes what he observes through narrator in 'Open City'". Kalamazoo Gazette. Archived from the original on 25 February 2015. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Brockes, Emma (21 June 2014). "Teju Cole: 'Two drafts of a tweet? Insufferable. But when I tweet I'm still a writer'". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Books. Teju Cole.
- Every Day is for the Thief page at Cassava Republic.
- "Academics, Faculty". Bard College. Retrieved 26 Dec 2011.
- Open City: A Novel (9780812980097): Teju Cole: Books. Amazon.com. Retrieved on 2012-03-06.
- Miguel Syjuco, "These Crowded Streets", The New York Times. Retrieved on 2012-03-08.
- Boyd Tonkin, "Open City, By Teju Cole", The Independent. Retrieved on 2012-03-08.
- Radhika Jones (December 7, 2011). "Top 10 Fiction Books". Time. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
- "Teju Cole's mesmerizing 'Open City' up for the NBCC fiction award". cleveland.com (2011-11-01). Retrieved on 2012-03-06.
- "Bard College Writer in Residence Teju Cole Wins 2012 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award". Bard College.
- Allison Flood (29 May 2012). "2012 Ondaatje prize 2012 goes to debut novel by Rahul Bhattacharya". The Guardian. Retrieved May 29, 2012.
- Duncan Murrell (March 30, 2012). "The Sisters Brothers v. Open City". The Morning News. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
- Silke Bartlick (2 May 2013). "Germany's International Literature Award honors world's best books". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
- Aygül Cizmecioglu (31 May 2013). "German literature prize for Teju Cole's debut NYC novel". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
- "Prize Citation for Teju Cole". Windham–Campbell Literature Prize. February 24, 2015. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
- Official website
- "The Arrival of Enigmas", James Wood, The New Yorker, February 2, 2011.
- Interview with Aleksandar Hemon in Bomb (magazine)
- Two-part essay on Cole's construction of sight and vision in Open City: Part 1, Part 2
- Cassava Republic Press website