authors | November 22, 2012

New York's Many Layers: Teju Cole On Writing Open City

"New York wants to convince you that it was born yesterday—and it wasn't," says Teju Cole in a recent interview on CBC Radio's Writers & Company. The notion of New York City being a, "historical site with many layers," was part of the inspiration behind his award-winning book, Open City. He explains in the interview that New York City has had a large population for a long time, and with that, a huge number of people have lived and died in the city throughout the course of its history. Some of these people—and the tragic events in their lives—have long since been forgotten, and the bustling metropolis is now often thought of in terms of its sky scrapers and Broadway shows, with the stories of its inhabitants falling to the wayside. In his book, Cole wanted to explore the concept of "forgetting." "Open City," for Cole, "then becomes a sort of exploration of the maybe somewhat provocative—but not that unusual—idea that 9/11 was not the first terrible thing to happen in New York."

The main character in the book wanders around the city documenting what he sees, which Cole expresses in a free-flowing style of prose which he says is representative of an, "extended piece of music." He also notes that despite now being a resident of the city, growing up in Nigeria gave him the, "foolish bravery of an outsider," that allowed him to assess New York and its history from a different perspective than a born-and-raised New Yorker could. In his writing, Cole makes visceral connections between people and their surroundings and gives readers new insight into the world around them. As articulate on stage as he is on the page, Cole presents a moving look at society and the way we connect with the places we live.