Introductions: Teju Cole

On April 21st, writer, photographer, and art historian Teju Cole delivered a sweeping lecture on heritage, craft, and political responsibility at Town Hall Seattle for SAL’s 2015/16 Literary Arts Series. SAL Executive Director Ruth Dickey introduced his talk and moderated their conversation that evening.

In a passage I love in Every Day is for the Thief, Teju Cole writes, “One goes to the market to participate in the world […] The market – as the essence of the city – is always alive with possibility and danger.” I would offer that we, as lucky readers, go to Teju Cole’s writing – across so many genres and platforms – to participate in the world: the surprising, elliptical, haunting world alive with possibility and danger that he so vividly captures and animates.

Teju Cole is the author of Every Day is for the Thief, named a book of the year by the New York Times, NPR, and the Telegraph and shortlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award, and Open City, which was literally on every best book of the year list, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the New York City Book Award for Fiction, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is the author of the soon to be released essay collection, Known and Strange Things, and the photography critic for the New York Times Magazine. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Atlantic, Granta, Aperture and others, and his solo photography show will open in Milan next week.

What I love about Cole’s work, beyond the beautiful writing, is his ability to capture the world in all its iterative complexity. In Open City, as the narrator traverses New York City, he reflects that each neighborhood “appeared to be made of a different substance; each seemed to have a different air pressure, a different psychic weight.” Cole honors and captures each and every distinct one. In Every Day is For the Thief, about Lagos, he writes – “The air in the strange, familiar environment of this city is dense with story, and it draws me into thinking of life as stories. The narratives fly at me from all directions.”

What a tremendous gift, to see this world teeming with stories, and how lucky we are that through his photography, his novels, his stories, his essays, his tweets, and his Instagram posts, Teju Cole has given us all the gift of capturing and sharing these stories. From the haunting young thief set afire, to his blisteringly funny essay about Ebola, to his achingly lovely portraits of cities, to the irresistible wandering Julius – Teju Cole’s work allows us all to truly see. Please join me in warmly welcoming this virtuosic storyteller of the visual and the written word, this documenter of all the different psychic weights, Teju Cole.

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