Teju Cole’s “Tremor” at SouthBank Centre – Toni Kan

...reads to a packed hall from 3rd novel

Teju Cole, Nigerian-American writer and academic, read his new book, Tremor, at the Southbank Centre on Sunday, 29 October 2023.

Billed as part of the London Literature Festival, Teju Cole’s event was the penultimate performance of the festival and was attended by a full and enthusiastic crowd that packed the Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The audience
The audience

After a 10-minute introduction by former BBC journalist and writer, Lara Pawson, Teju Cole protested meekly saying such a long and extravagant introduction can “corrupt” the soul before asking that the houselights come on so he could make out “faces of friends and enemies in the audience”.

He would go ahead to read from the first few pages of Tremor which has been described as a “beguiling and complex text” which straddles genres and defies easy classification.

Displaying the journalist’s gift for interlocution, Lara led Teju Cole to speak about the long hiatus that spanned the release of his second novel, Open City and Tremor, his third.

Responding, Mr. Cole noted that “I procrastinated by making, like, six books in between Open City and Tremor. I think it was a search for form. When you work in fiction you just don’t pick a form off the shelf.”

Teju Cole and Lara Pawson
Teju Cole and Lara Pawson in conversation

Expanding on the issue of form in response to another question, the author said “a novel means new so when I write a novel I want to make it new. The question I ask myself is how can I write it in a way that makes it new?”

Poking fun at those not enthused by his style,Teju Cole says he is aware of the criticism about form and style in his new book. “’We don’t do novels this way’ they say and my humble answer is ‘we do now!’ ”

Still on the subject of style and the constant switches between points of view in Tremor, the author cracked up his audience with a smart quip.

“When we tell stories, we always switch our points of view. You can look in the mirror and say “I kicked ass” or you can look in the mirror and say “You fucked up”. You don’t say wow, avantgarde!”

Considering the prevailing circumstance with bombs falling in Ukraine and Gaza, politics was bound to creep into the conversation and creep in it did with the author riffing on American politics, global geo-politics, LGBTQ issues and the ongoing Israel/Hamas war.

“I think part of the role of a [writer] is not to always jump up to dance in front of people who oppose human dignity. I admire those who are disregarded and maintain their dignity.”

After taking a few questions from members of the audience Teju cole repaired to the foyer where he spent almost two hours signing autographs for a snaking line of fans who had bought his new and old books.

But before departing the stage he had announced that a new book is due out from him in February 2024; a book of short stories and photographs.

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