Teju Cole

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Teju Cole
Cole in 2013
Cole in 2013
BornObayemi Babajide Adetokunbo Onafuwa
(1975-06-27) June 27, 1975 (age 48)
Kalamazoo, Michigan, U.S.[1]
OccupationNovelist, photographer
Notable worksOpen City (2011)
Notable awards

Teju Cole (born June 27, 1975) is a Nigerian-American writer, photographer, and art historian.[2] He is the author of a novella, Every Day Is for the Thief (2007),[3] a novel, Open City (2011), an essay collection, Known and Strange Things (2016),[4] a photobook Punto d'Ombra (2016; published in English in 2017 as Blind Spot),[5] and a second novel, Tremor (2023).[6] Critics have praised his work as having "opened a new path in African literature."[7]

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,[8][9] 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,[9][10] then pursued a doctorate in art history at Columbia University.[1][11] He is the Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing[12] at Harvard University and currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[13]



Cole is the author or co-author of several books, among them the novella Every Day Is for the Thief;[14] the novel, Open City;[8] a collection of more than 40 essays, Known and Strange Things;[15] and a photobook, Punto d'Ombra (2016) (published in English in 2017 as Blind Spot). Salman Rushdie has described Cole as "among the most gifted writers of his generation".[16]

He was a Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College.[17] From June to November 2014 he was "writer in residence" of the Literaturhaus Zurich [de] and the PWG Foundation [de] in Zurich.

Every Day Is for the Thief[edit]

Published in 2007, Cole's debut novel, Every Day Is for the Thief, is the story of a young man who sets out to visit his home country, Nigeria, after being away for fifteen years.[18] The novel reads like a travel diary explaining the way of life in the city of Lagos and along the way, exposes how the democratic nature of corruption can affect anyone regardless of their status in the society.[18]

Open City[edit]

Written in 2011 and published in 2012, 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."[19]

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".[8] According to The New York Times, "the novel's importance lies in its honesty."[20] The Independent characterizes Open City as "hypnotic", "transfixing", and a "striking debut" for Cole,[21] while Time referred to the novel as "a profoundly original work, intellectually stimulating and possessing of a style both engaging and seductive."[22]

Known and Strange Things[edit]

In 2016, Cole published his first collection of essays and criticism. Writing for the New York Times, the poet Claudia Rankine called it "an essential and scintillating journey,"[23] and singled out, in particular, his essays on photography, wherein he "reveals [his] voracious appetite for and love of the visual."

Journalism and social commentary[edit]

Cole is a regular contributor to publications including the New York Times, Qarrtsiluni, Granta, The New Yorker, Transition magazine, The New Inquiry, and A Public Space. Quarrtsiluni (2005–2013) was an online literary magazine that attempted to edit blog software from social media; the purpose behind it was to give full access to writers/commentators of various issues "who never quite realized our dream of creating a print-on-demand option for each issue."[24] His monthly column for The New York Times Magazine, "On Photography," was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in 2016.[25]

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.[26][27][28] The original series of tweets that precipitated the article elicited a response from NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof whom Cole named as an example of a white savior. Kristof mistakenly referred 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."[26] 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."[26]

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.[29] Writing in The New Yorker two days after the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo staff by Islamists in Paris, Cole claimed that the French publication was "racist and Islamophobic", a charge met with criticism from numerous commentators,[30] including the president of SOS Racisme, France's leading anti-racism organization, who praised Charlie Hebdo as "the greatest anti-racist weekly in this country."[31]


Cole's photography was shown in a solo exhibition in Milan in 2016 called Punto d'ombra.[32] The photographs from this exhibition were published by the Italian publisher Contrasto Books in 2016,[33] and by Random House in 2017 under the title Blind Spot.[34]

Social media[edit]

Cole's innovative use of social media (particularly Twitter and Instagram) as a creative platform has been widely acknowledged.[35][36][37][38][39]


  • Cole, Teju (2007). Every Day Is for the Thief. Nigeria: Cassava Republic Press. ISBN 9789780805159. A novella.
  • —— (2011). Open City. New York: Random House. ISBN 9780812980097. A novel.
  • —— (2016). Known and Strange Things. New York. ISBN 9780812989786.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) An essay collection.
  • —— (2016). Punto d'ombra. Foreword by Siri Hustvedt; translated by Gioia Guerzoni. Italy: Contrasto. ISBN 9788869656538. A photobook.
    • —— (2017). Blind Spot. Random House. ISBN 9780399591075. English-language edition.
  • —— (2020). Fernweh. ISBN 978-1-912339-54-9. Photographs.[40]
  • —— (2021). Golden Apple of the Sun. ISBN 978-1-913620-21-9. Photographs and text.[41]
  • —— (2022). Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-64135-5. Text and illustrations.
  • Tremor. Faber and Faber, 2023. ISBN 9780571283354. A novel.[42][43]
  • Pharmakon. London: Mack, 2024. ISBN 978-1-915743-39-8. Photographs.

Awards and honors[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 February 25, 2015. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  2. ^ Bio. Teju Cole. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
  3. ^ Kolawole, Samuel (February 1, 2013). "African novels to look out for". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  4. ^ Gappah, Petina (August 7, 2016). "Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole review – a world of riches". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  5. ^ Selasi, Taiye (August 5, 2016). "Teju Cole talks to Taiye Selasi: 'Afropolitan, American, African. Whatever'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  6. ^ Lucas, Julian (2023-10-09). "Teju Cole's New Novel Is Haunted by the Trespasses of Art". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2023-10-20.
  7. ^ Obi-Young, Otosirieze (4 July 2021). "The Worldly Ways of Teju Cole". Open Country Mag. Retrieved November 20, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c Wood, James (February 28, 2011). "The Arrival of Enigmas". The New Yorker. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
  9. ^ a b DeRitter, Margaret (May 27, 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 June 19, 2017.
  10. ^ Kassel, Matthew (March 10, 2014). "Interview: Teju Cole's 'Every Day Is for the Thief'". The New York Observer. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  11. ^ Brockes, Emma (June 21, 2014). "Teju Cole: 'Two drafts of a tweet? Insufferable. But when I tweet I'm still a writer'". The Guardian. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  12. ^ Cole, Teju. "bio : TEJU COLE". Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  13. ^ "Teju Cole on What Needs to Change to Better Cover Stories in "Foreign" Countries". Nieman Reports. Retrieved 2021-11-22.
  14. ^ "Every Day is for the Thief page at Cassava Republic". Archived from the original on June 1, 2013. Retrieved Feb 19, 2019.
  15. ^ "Everything Is Fair Game In 'Known And Strange Things'". All Things Considered. NPR. August 16, 2016. Retrieved May 18, 2017.
  16. ^ "Selected Shorts: Teju Cole & Salman Rushdie", SymphonySpace.
  17. ^ "Bard Faculty: Teju Cole". Bard College. bard.edu. Retrieved June 18, 2017.
  18. ^ a b Torkornoo, Edem (2014). "Shuffering and Shmiling: A Review of Teju Cole's Every Day Is for the Thief". Ayiba Magazine. ayibamagazine.com. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
  19. ^ Open City: A Novel (9780812980097): Teju Cole: Books. Amazon.com. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
  20. ^ Miguel Syjuco, "These Crowded Streets", The New York Times. Retrieved March 8, 2012.
  21. ^ Boyd Tonkin, "Open City, By Teju Cole", The Independent. Retrieved March 8, 2012.
  22. ^ a b Radhika Jones (December 7, 2011). "Top 10 Fiction Books". Time. Archived from the original on January 7, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  23. ^ Rankine, Claudia (2016-08-09). "Teju Cole's Essays Build Connections Between African and Western Art". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  24. ^ "Quarrtsiluni". 12 August 2007. Retrieved June 19, 2016.
  25. ^ "Winners and Finalists Database | ASME". www.magazine.org. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  26. ^ a b c Cole, Teju (March 21, 2012). "The White-Savior Industrial Complex". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  27. ^ James Schneider, "Inside the White Saviour Industrial Complex", New African, January 6, 2015.
  28. ^ "Africa, the white-savior industrial complex and the quest for ‘saviordom’ (Part 1)", November 12, 2014.
  29. ^ "Peter Carey among writers to protest PEN honour for Charlie Hebdo", The Guardian, April 27, 2015.
  30. ^ "If you don't speak French, how can you judge if Charlie Hebdo is racist?". www.newstatesman.com. 29 April 2015. Retrieved Feb 19, 2019.
  31. ^ Solomon, Andrew; Nossel, Suzanne (May 1, 2015). "Opinion | Why We're Honoring Charlie Hebdo". The New York Times. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  32. ^ "PUNTO D'OMBRA – TEJU COLE | Fondazione Forma per la fotografia". www.formafoto.it. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  33. ^ "Punto d'ombra, ContrastoBooks". www.contrastobooks.com (in Italian). Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  34. ^ Blind Spot by Teju Cole | PenguinRandomHouse.com.
  35. ^ Adnan Khan, "Teju Cole is Way Better at Twitter Than You", Vice, August 28, 2013.
  36. ^ Sneha Vakharia, "Teju Cole's instagram feed just gave us a masterclass on human behaviour", Catch News, August 19, 2015.
  37. ^ Max Read,"Here Are Seven (Very) Short Stories About Drones by Award-Winning Author Teju Cole" Archived 2015-09-23 at the Wayback Machine, Gawker.com, January 15, 2013.
  38. ^ Keira Rathbone, "The Boundary-Pushing Novelist Who’s Made Twitter His New Medium", Wired, July 22, 2014.
  39. ^ "Teju Cole Writes A Story A Tweet At A Time", NPR, January 16, 2014.
  40. ^ "Swiss bliss: Teju Cole's Alpine wanderlust – in pictures". The Guardian. 6 February 2020. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2021-12-25.
  41. ^ "Book Review: Golden Apple of the Sun". Musée Magazine. 5 August 2021. Retrieved 2021-12-25.
  42. ^ Fan, Kit (2023-10-20). "Tremor by Teju Cole review – art, history and violence". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-10-20.
  43. ^ Dillon, Brian (17 October 2023). "For Teju Cole, Art Is a Lens on a History of Violence". The New York Times. Retrieved 2023-11-22.
  44. ^ "Teju Cole's mesmerizing 'Open City' up for the NBCC fiction award". cleveland.com (November 1, 2011). Retrieved March 6, 2012.
  45. ^ "Bard College Writer in Residence Teju Cole Wins 2012 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award". Bard College.
  46. ^ Alison Flood (May 29, 2012). "2012 Ondaatje prize 2012 goes to debut novel by Rahul Bhattacharya". The Guardian. Retrieved May 29, 2012.
  47. ^ Duncan Murrell (March 30, 2012). "The Sisters Brothers v. Open City". The Morning News. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  48. ^ Silke Bartlick (May 2, 2013). "Germany's International Literature Award honors world's best books". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  49. ^ Aygül Cizmecioglu (31 May 2013). "German literature prize for Teju Cole's debut NYC novel". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  50. ^ "Prize Citation for Teju Cole". Windham–Campbell Literature Prize. February 24, 2015. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  51. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | Teju Cole". Retrieved August 21, 2019.

External links[edit]