Teju Cole

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Teju Cole
TejuCole01(86th&Lexington10 7 13).JPG
Born Obayemi Babajide Adetokunbo Onafuwa
(1975-06-27) June 27, 1975 (age 40)
Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA[1]
Occupation Novelist, Photographer
Alma mater
Notable works Open City
Notable awards 2012 PEN/Hemingway Award
2012 New York City Book Award for Fiction 2013 International Literature Award

Teju Cole (born June 27, 1975) is a Nigerian-American writer, photographer, and art historian.[2]

Personal Life and Education[edit]

Cole was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan to Nigerian parents, and is the oldest of four children.[1] Cole and his mother returned to Lagos, Nigeria shortly after his birth,[3][4] where his father joined them after receiving his MBA from Western Michigan University.[1] 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.[1] After dropping out of medical school at the University of Michigan, Cole enrolled in an African art history program at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London,[4][5] then pursued a doctorate in art history at Columbia University.[1][6] 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),[7][8] and a novel, Open City[3] (New York: Random House, 2012; London: Faber, 2012). Cole is currently working on two new books: Known and Strange Things, a collection of more than 40 essays, expected to be published in 2016, and Radio Lagos, a non-fictional narrative of contemporary Lagos.[9][10] Salman Rushdie has described Cole as "among the most gifted writers of his generation".[11] He is currently the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College.[12] From June to November 2014 he was 'writer in residence' of the Literaturhaus Zurich and the PWG Foundation in Zurich.

Open City[edit]

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."[13]

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".[3] According to The New York Times, "the novel’s importance lies in its honesty."[14] The Independent characterizes Open City as "hypnotic", "transfixing", and a "striking debut" for Cole,[15] while Time referred to the novel as "a profoundly original work, intellectually stimulating and possessing of a style both engaging and seductive."[16]

Journalism and Social Commentary[edit]

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 the photography critic of the New York Times Magazine.

Cole has been credited with coining the term White-Savior Industrial Complex with a series of Tweets followed by an article published in The Atlantic titled "The White-Savior Industrial Complex".[17][18] The original series of Tweets which precipitated the article elicited a response from NY Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof who Cole named as an example of a White Savior. Kristof mistakenly referring to Cole, a Nigerian-American, as a Ugandan, said that he believed Cole was part of a backlash against white humanitarians from middle-class African scholars. Kristof said that he felt uncomfortable because he thought that Cole was saying that "white Americans should not intervene in a humanitarian disaster because the victims are of a different skin color."[19] Cole responded, saying that he was concerned by Kristof's sentimentality and his lack of analysis of the context of humanitarian need in Africa: "All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need."[19]

Alongside Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Peter Carey, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi, Cole was one of six writers, who protested the PEN American Center gala honoring the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo with its "Freedom of Expression Courage" award in April 2015 by withdrawing as co-hosts of the event.[20]

Social Media[edit]

Cole's innovative use of social media as a creative platform has been widely acknowledged.[21][22][23][24][25]

Awards and honors[edit]



Every Day is for the Thief (2007, 2014)
Open City (2012)

Essays and reporting[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e 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. 
  2. ^ Bio. Teju Cole. Retrieved on 2012-03-06.
  3. ^ a b c Wood, James (28 February 2011). "The Arrival of Enigmas". The New Yorker. Retrieved 17 August 2013. 
  4. ^ a b 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. 
  5. ^ Kassel, Matthew (10 March 2014). "Interview: Teju Cole’s ‘Every Day Is for the Thief’". The New York Observer. Retrieved 10 August 2015. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Books. Teju Cole.
  8. ^ Every Day is for the Thief page at Cassava Republic.
  9. ^ http://www.ew.com/article/2015/06/12/teju-cole-first-book-essays-known-strange-things
  10. ^ http://www.tejucole.com/books/
  11. ^ http://www.symphonyspace.org/event/8478/Literature/selected-shorts-teju-cole-salman-rushdie
  12. ^ "Academics, Faculty". Bard College. Retrieved 26 Dec 2011. 
  13. ^ Open City: A Novel (9780812980097): Teju Cole: Books. Amazon.com. Retrieved on 2012-03-06.
  14. ^ Miguel Syjuco, "These Crowded Streets", The New York Times. Retrieved on 2012-03-08.
  15. ^ Boyd Tonkin, "Open City, By Teju Cole", The Independent. Retrieved on 2012-03-08.
  16. ^ a b Radhika Jones (December 7, 2011). "Top 10 Fiction Books". Time. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  17. ^ http://newafricanmagazine.com/inside-white-saviour-industrial-complex/
  18. ^ http://www.allvoices.com/article/100002297
  19. ^ a b Cole, Teju (March 21, 2012). "The White-Savior Industrial Complex". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-08-15. 
  20. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/27/peter-carey-among-writers-to-protest-pen-honour-for-charlie-hebdo
  21. ^ https://www.vice.com/read/teju-cole-wants-to-keep-us-on-our-toes
  22. ^ http://www.catchnews.com/culture-news/teju-cole-s-instagram-feed-just-gave-us-a-masterclass-on-understanding-human-behaviour-1439988410.html
  23. ^ http://gawker.com/5976074/here-are-seven-very-short-stories-about-drones-by-award-winning-author-teju-cole
  24. ^ http://www.wired.com/2014/07/teju-cole-twitter/
  25. ^ http://www.npr.org/2014/01/16/262473432/forget-the-new-yorker-storyteller-turns-to-twitter
  26. ^ "Teju Cole's mesmerizing 'Open City' up for the NBCC fiction award". cleveland.com (2011-11-01). Retrieved on 2012-03-06.
  27. ^ "Bard College Writer in Residence Teju Cole Wins 2012 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award". Bard College.
  28. ^ Allison Flood (29 May 2012). "2012 Ondaatje prize 2012 goes to debut novel by Rahul Bhattacharya". The Guardian. Retrieved May 29, 2012. 
  29. ^ Duncan Murrell (March 30, 2012). "The Sisters Brothers v. Open City". The Morning News. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  30. ^ Silke Bartlick (2 May 2013). "Germany's International Literature Award honors world's best books". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  31. ^ Aygül Cizmecioglu (31 May 2013). "German literature prize for Teju Cole's debut NYC novel". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  32. ^ "Prize Citation for Teju Cole". Windham–Campbell Literature Prize. February 24, 2015. Retrieved February 25, 2015. 

External links[edit]