Teju Cole is a Nigerian-American writer whose first book was published by Cassava republic and I loved the title “Everyday is for the thief” so we(my mum and I) bought it and we liked it! This was back in 2008 or so.
After I read Purple Hibiscus in 2006, I started reading and buying a lot of Nigerian books unlike Enid Blyton, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter series etc that I was used to up to that point. I was totally in love with the stories and I am glad my mum liked them too so that helped me financially because she always bought them. I wonder if my mum also did that to keep an eye on the content that I was consuming. LOL. My favorite publishers were Farafina (Chimamanda’s publishers) and Cassava Republic press. These two publishers were my seal of quality.
You can imagine my excitement when Teju Cole one of the writers of the books mentioned above came to my school SFU, on October 5th. The SFU library started a project where they are trying to promote reading culture and Teju Cole’s ‘Open City’ was selected as their inaugural book. Hence, they brought him to Vancouver from New York where he resides. To be honest, I haven’t read Open City, I didn’t like the start so I put it on my to read later list. Nevertheless, I was still excited to meet Teju Cole and learn about Open City. I wish I had taken notes during this event because I am doing this recap a week later and my memory is not perfect so forgive me if I miss out important details.
At the event, I met two cool people Kim K(a writer) and Stephanie H(a cool mum). Kim and I were too early for the event and we started taking and had had nice conversations during the event .She asked if I write too and I replied that I prefer to call myself a storyteller because if I say I am a writer, she will have great expectations etc. Also the book that I am planning on writing in the nearest future will stories about my life and Kim said that is basically what most writers do. So I can consider myself a writer too. Yay!
The crowd had a lot of older white people than I thought would show up. No offense but I was expecting it to be filled with writers, students and a couple of SFU staff or alumni. Apparently the interviewer Eleanor Wachtel was a celebrity too. She had a super popular TV show where she interviews writers and the show has been on air for 25 years.That explained it. (The event was free but we had to register). Kim & I’s first theory was that they were SFU alumni. Then we asked the guy behind us how he learned about the event and he started gushing about the interviewer we were like “ohoo, so that’s why the event was sold out, the interviewer is also popular”. The organizers actually had a wait list and that was one of the reasons why Kim and I were early. We did not want them to give out our seats because we were late. Because I was early, (I arrived before the organizers. LOL) I was there when they were setting up the book sales table and I asked if Teju would be signing but unfortunately, no one knew! Apparently, they hadn’t asked him.
I told the book seller that if Teju was signing, then I will buy the book. Then the bookseller told me that apparently there was an event the previous night where they had a panel and Teju was on it and he signed all the books they sold. Also, they still had 4 copies left in the shop so the book seller gave me the address and said I will get a signed copy whether Teju signed books that night or not. That made me very happy. They asked Teju and he said he would sign books when the show was over so I bought a copy of Open City. I also saw the new copies of “Everyday is for the thief” and I mentioned to the bookseller that I had the book but it was the Cassava republic copy and he said that I had a rare copy. The bookseller said that he really wished that he had those and it was kind of a collectors item because it was the originally published book but he had never seen it and I was the first person he had met that knew it. Lol. Kim and I later went in and sat strategically by the aisle so I could run out immediately the show was over and be the first in line for the book signing. Lol, I am a case, I know!
When the event was starting, Teju Cole also noticed that the audience wasn’t just students and enthusiastic writers. He commented that some people there might not be familiar with his work so we started with him reading an ‘Open City’ excerpt. I found it interesting that they kept saying Open City was his debut novel despite the fact that I read ‘Everyday is for the thief’ about six years ago, but apparently ‘Everyday is for the thief’ is a novella,. Kim also read Open City a few years ago. We concluded that the event organizers were trying to create more buzz so they were saying it was a “debut new novel”.
Back to what Teju Cole was saying that evening… He mentioned something about our generation and how we communicate with smileys, hashtags etc. He also spoke about how he loves Wizkid and D’banj (who doesn’t except bad belles) and Nigerian Twitter(I love how Nigerians usually acknowledge the fact that Nigerian Twitter is in it’s own category…To anyone confused, It is regular twitter but the way Nigerians use it, topics discussed etc are really something else). Then the interviewer was like ‘but Teju is 40, what does he mean by his generation?’ He replied that he has the mind of a 20 year old and the bladder of an 80 year old, TMI I know, Lol. As a result, he still keeps up with the culture of the times and parties well(you know, as a Yoruba boy 😉 ) His passions include writing, photography and dancing. He also spoke about his family. His younger sister is very successful (She has a phd in immunology, married with kids, got her American citizenship by being an ‘Alien of extraordinary ability’, she is basically the dream child of every Nigerian parent) Meanwhile he is the here calling himself ‘a writer’, ‘photographer’ and even the phd that he has is in Art History, so basically he is a failure to his Nigerian parents especially as the first born son(his words not mine, I think he is very successful and brave to actually follow his passions).
Something he said that I found funny was when Eleanor asked why his phd was in a particular type of paintings(Flemish paintings). He said usually people respond with how interesting the details about the paintings are, the artist behind the work etc. His own reason was that he just saw the paintings, liked it and decided that he really couldn’t make his parents any more disappointed so he might as well just do his phd in studying Flemish paintings. According to Teju. it takes him hours to decide what movie to watch for the night, what to eat etc but almost instantly by looking at the paintings, he decided that he would study Flemish paintings. He also said something about who is going to listen to A Nigerian American man who specializes in Flemish art (Early Netherlandish painting) LOOL. Then he added that his art history phd can be blamed for all the long descriptive parts in Open City and he is sorry. Hahaha. According to him, basically a phd in art history is looking at a painting and coming up with an interesting 20 page essay on it. He mentioned how both books he has written were acts of procrastination from his phd when he was asked about his motivations for writing.
When Eleanor said something about him being the first child, he was like point of correction, ‘I was the anchor baby’, a joke that the interviewer did not get but Kim and I got it. Lol.(Just google anchor baby and you will get it too). I was also touched that he spoke about how he was in medical school but dropped out because he was depressed. Teju Cole was born in America, grew up in Nigeria and went to America for post-secondary education. He didn’t go to Nigeria for 6 years when he was in America and after that trip he didn’t go for 10 years. I was having a discussion with a friend about this and we were like truly living in a foreign country can really drain you mentally. Honestly, things are hard in Nigeria but having your family does have a positive impact and Nigerians are generally positive and hopeful. Teju said that for the past few years, he has been going to Lagos every year. That made me really happy and I believe it does the same for him too if not he won’t be doing so 🙂
My favorite part was when in response to a question about his cynical look on life in Lagos which can be seen in his book “Everyday for the thief”, he spoke about how with the new Nigerian government people were becoming hopeful and looking forward to change. Then the interviewer woman was like ‘Oh are things really hopeful, with Boko Haram and the violence in the country?” (This question actually pissed me off because every freaking time someone says something good about Nigeria, the other person must mention Boko Haram. It is like no, nothing good can happen in the country because there is Boko Haram. Teju Cole said that writing Open City was inspired by 9/11. Why did she not ask if America was hopeless due to that event or the recent mass shootings or police violence?)
Teju Cole’s response was that of course he is concerned about Boko Haram as a Nigerian Citizen. He also mentioned Lagos is in the south west and boko haram is based in the North . Really tough, I hope my madam friend checks a map of Nigeria soon. Teju Cole went on to add that he is also concerned about the mass shootings going on in America especially in schools, police violence towards black men in America as an American citizen and how the presidential candidates have made disturbing comments (Hilary Clinton said Iranians are enemies, Donald Trumps comments etc). However, that does not mean that America is hopeless and that is the same way he feels about Nigeria. He has dual Nigerian and American citizenship.
Honestly, I did not like the interviewer woman, I know she is famous and all but she came across to me as someone with a stereotypical view on Africans. At one point, she asked if he is the same person in Lagos and in Nigeria, for example “does he speak English with friends in Lagos?” Come on, how can you ask such a question in 2015, please? Then he said of course he speaks English with his friends and he can also speak Yoruba, then he said ‘Ta lo gbo Yoruba(Who understands Yoruba?) I think only Dupe and I were the only Yorubas in the audience.
During the Question and Answer time, they had a few questions and said that they had time for one more. Sonia and Pam had their hands up(Sonia is Nigerian and Pam is an American originally from Malawi) . Teju was like “You have to give them a chance to ask” and that made me happy, I dont know how to explain it but you either get why it made me happy or not. So Pam and Sonia asked their questions. Sonia was about how people dont care where you are from and they just look at you as a black man so how does he deal with that. He mentioned that he really is everything, a Black Man, a Nigerian, an American and he can hyphenate when he wants. I forgot the complete response but I remember two stories, how when he says something someone might correct him and say ‘Oh, that’s not how we say it in America’ and he responds ‘Well, we do now’. After all, he is American and I also remember the story of how a particular bookstore shelves books according to the author’s ‘region’. So they put his book in the African section and a couple of his friends took some copies and re-shelved them in the American section because Open City is about America too and the author is American. Those are my kind of friends!
Pam’s question was about going back home. She said she had lived in America for most of her life but would still really like to go back to Malawi and what are his thoughts on that…(He earlier mentioned that when his parents went back to Nigeria, there was a lot to go back to unlike now). His response was about how the world is really a global village and when he is at the shrine(http://www.shrinenyc.com/), it is filled with various kinds of people but they all feel at home there. There is the Nigerian on two weeks vacation who is right at home there, there is the person of Mixed heritage, there is the African-American who has never left America, there is the person who goes back and forth between countries and they all feel right at home. His point was that now, traveling is so much more common and with internet and technology, you can keep with everything so it doesn’t really matter where you are based. Going back home or staying abroad works and you can always go visiting. (I hope I didn’t mess up what he said!)
After the show, my plan worked and I was first in line to see Teju Cole and the person behind me was Stephanie. I asked her to help me take a picture when Teju came and email it to me and thank God, she agreed(My phone was dead at that point but the devil is a liar, I was still going to get my picture with Teju Cole by fire by force). So when Teju came, I gave him the book to sign for my mum. I also mentioned that I had Everyday for the thief published by Cassava Republic, he was like ‘ That was so long ago, weren’t you like 10?’ LOL, I was most likely 13/14. (I am glad he didn’t think that I was currently 10 though.Someone told me this past summer that she thought I was 14. Haha). Then Stephanie took a picture of me and Teju Cole and I took a picture of her and Teju Cole. She actually even met him the night before at some panel discussion and he was a panelist, I didn’t know about that 😦 I think Stephanie’s children are half Nigerian because she is Canadian and while we were waiting, she was talking about getting home to her sons and she said ‘Oh I have pictures’ and she said ‘You’re Nigerian, you’ll like their pictures’. LOL.I don’t get that statement sha. Her children were actually really cute so I am glad she showed me. Looking back, I wish I had asked Teju Cole when he would be back on Twitter, Since last year, he tweeted that it was time for a twitter break and he hasn’t tweeted since then. He might have not answered me sha so maybe it is best that I forgot to ask. Here are the pictures from the event:
Peace, Love and Joy,