There are some people who are simply a pleasure to listen to and learn from, who exude such easy intelligence and warmth that you leave their presence with renewed hope about the power of art and writing – Teju Cole is such a person. The multi-award winning, American-born Nigerian writer of Open City, returned to Edinburgh International Book Festival to discuss his new work, Blind Spot, a cross-genre work featuring photography and text which explore the worlds of vision and writing.
To begin the event, Teju flicked through a set of several slides of his photography, each accompanied by a reading from a short lyrical piece of writing – not quite an essay, not quite poetry, but definitely not a caption. The photographs themselves are simple, naturalistic shots covering a mixture of places and environments, not particularly arresting but not banal either, but when they’re experienced with Teju’s voiceover and the accompanying text, they feel as if they shift in meaning and importance.
Elizabeth Reeder, a capable and thoughtful chair, asked him about his form of ‘anti-travel’ travel-writing which in his words, allows him to explore what connects countries and cities across the globe, breaking down the sense of foreignness in favour of a unifying sense of wonder and understanding. In this answer, and throughout the discussion as a whole, there was a sense of real depth to Teju’s responses as if he wanted to make clear the respect he feels for both the audience and to Reeder, allowing the tone to be both intellectual and encouraging, almost casual in its warmth.
Reeder also asked about his interest in a kind of new hybrid genre of work and how experimental literary forms could find their place in book shops, to this Teju laughs wryly, replying that he feared no one would ever visit a section entitled ‘literary and experimental fiction.’ However, judging from the packed out event, he might be at a very great risk of underselling himself.
For more on the Edinburgh International Book Festival and it’s programme click here.