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Professor of Creative Writing at Harvard | Author of Black Paper | Former Photography Critic for NYT Magazine

Teju Cole | Professor of Creative Writing at Harvard | Author of Black Paper | Former Photography Critic for NYT Magazine
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Teju Cole on Open City

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Navigating the Geography of Art

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A prodigious novelist, critic, and photographer, Teju Cole was born in the US and raised in Nigeria—a biographical fact that informs much of his work. His first novel, Open City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award, while his second book, Every Day Is for the Thief, was named a Book of the Year by The New York Times. Described as a “profound book of essays by a master of the form,” his latest book, Black Paper, examines how we can sustain our humanity during a deeply troubling and fractured moment of our history. These essays—on art, literature, politics, activism—serve as a reminder “that darkness cannot last forever, and even within it, there is meaning and hope.”

“He is a writer for our times.”

— The Guardian

Teju Cole is currently the Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard.  He is formerly the photography critic for The New York Times Magazine from 2015—2019 (a position he originated). In both writing and photography, Cole combines his eye for beauty with his capacity to perceive human and civic truth. In his latest book Tremor, we follow Tunde, a West African teacher of photography on a renowned New England campus, as Cole explores the passage of time and how we mark it. In his recent book, Cole asks: What does it mean to sustain our humanity in times of darkness? One of the most celebrated essayists of his generation, he raises and explores, with razor precision, some of the most important ethical questions of our time: what does it mean to be human, to bear witness the humanity of others, and to recognize how our individual present is informed by a collective past. “To read this book is to enjoy the generosity of his thought, to be invited into a contemplation of your inner life, to embrace the complexity of others, and to see in the darkness not only despair but also understanding and even refuge” (The Guardian).

Cole’s first novel, Open City, was awarded the New York City Book Award for Fiction, the Internationaler Literaturpreis, and the Windham Campbell Prize for Fiction; and was named one of the best books of the year by The GuardianNewsweekThe Atlantic, The New York Times, and more. Cole has even been heralded as “among the most gifted writers of his generation,” by Salman Rushdie. His second title,  Known and Strange Things, collects a series of essays that span art, literature, and politics, with topics ranging from the White Savior Industrial Complex, and Black Lives Matter, to Snapchat and Shakespeare. It was named one of TIME’s Top 10 Nonfiction Books, as well as one of Harper’s Bazaar’s 13 Best Books, and made Kirkus Reviews’ Best Nonfiction list. His novella, Every Day Is for the Thief, has been “widely praised as one of the best fictional depictions of Africa in recent memory” (The New Yorker) and was named one of the best books of the year by The New York TimesThe Telegraph,The Globe and Mail, and NPR.

Cole’s incredible solo exhibit in Milan, Punto d’ombra, was published as a gorgeous collection of photographs in the book Blind Spot: each full-color photo accompanied by selections of lyrical prose that explore “the mysteries of the ordinary” (The New York Times Book Review). Blind Spot was named one of TIME’s Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2017.

Recently, Cole was invited by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago to curate an exhibit, titled “Go Down Moses”, after the well-known spiritual song. The exhibit explores themes of freedom, suffering, the environment and the future—and marks Cole’s major curatorial debut.

We had a great time with Teju. He was brilliant, insightful, courteous, and really easy to deal with.

University of British Columbia

Speech Topics

An Evening with Teju Cole

Hailed by Salman Rushdie as “among the most gifted writers of his generation,” Teju Cole has a keen eye for beauty—and for hope, truth, and human nature. In keynotes customized for his audiences, Cole speaks on a wide range of issues: from literature, photography, and criticism, to politics, ethics, and humanity. His expertise ranges from the past to the future, and touches on a variety of crucial questions of the present. He challenges audiences to face the complexities of existence and to consider what it means to be human in the historical moment we inhabit.

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