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Image by @erinrosewellbooks via Instagram

Teju Cole is a well-known name in global literary circles. He has a column on photography in The New York Times. His recent book of essays has him in line for Pen America’s most prestigious and richest award. [read here if you missed it].

Before all this success, Cole broke into the global literary scene with the publication of Open City, his first novel-length fictional work. In a message addressed to his fans, Cole comments on why the book has meant so much to him.

February 8th, last Wednesday, was the book’s “birthday” and Cole commemorated the day with this beautiful Facebook message.

This little book was published on February 8, 2011, six years ago today. I’m amazed. Last year, I thought: “It’s been five years already?” This year, with so much water under the bridge, with a new book out and another on the way, I have the opposite thought: “It’s only been six years?”

It’s the book I wrote, but it’s also the book that wrote me.

I couldn’t have imagined how many people it would reach and how intensely. Couldn’t have expected that total strangers would immerse themselves in 259 pages of…where’s this book going exactly? Couldn’t have dared think of how, years later, people would still be reading it and eager to have others read it too. Well, it’s a book I’m very fond of, and I’m grateful to everyone who has given it life: to my editor, my agent, my family, my friends, the publishers, readers, scholars, students, and you.

The note comes across as humbling and honest. Readers need to hear more authors express gratitude and show that they value the mostly faceless masses of individuals who buy their books and create communities around it.

Open City debuted in 2011 to critical acclaim. The novel is mostly set in New York City and tells the story of a Nigerian psychiatrist who is haunted by a dark past. In the years since its publication, the book has sparked rich conversations around the aesthetic innovations of new African fiction, in addition to questions about the link between violence and history—something that the novel explores quite a bit.

Our favorite line Cole’s tribute to the book: “It’s the book I wrote, but it’s also the book that wrote me.” It’s a powerful reminder that our creative work has the power to shape our own lives and growth as creators.

Happy publication day to Open City!



Post image by @erinrosewellbooks via Instagram

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

2 Responses to “Teju Cole Writes a Powerful Tribute to His First Novel Open City” Subscribe

  1. Nathan Suhr-Sytsma 2017/02/15 at 13:55 #

    While I join you in celebrating the birthday of Open City, I’m not sure that it’s his first novel. Every Day Is for the Thief was written first and published in 2007 by Cassava Republic before its international release after Open City.

  2. Otosirieze Obi-Young 2017/02/18 at 00:27 #

    Hello Nathan. You’re right about Everyday Is for the Thief being published before Open City, in 2007, but technically, length-wise, Every Day is a novella. Which makes Open City–as written in the post–“his first novel-length fictional work.” Thank you for sharing your view with us.

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