Writings of the general word's body

Monday, September 19, 2011

Teju Cole on twitter

"Of what import are brief, nameless lives to Galactus?" Teju Cole has the answer. The author of Open City, currently working on a non-fiction book on Lagos, has been reading Nigerian newspapers and found himself drawn to the little stories, the big and small tragedies of ordinary people. So, he started recasting the stories on twitter in the tradition of the fait divers, a project he has augmented with the tag: Teju Cole Small Fates.

Here he is on TCSF
"The stories I tell in the small fates are more tightly compressed than most fait divers (thanks to the limitation of length Twitter imposes) and often more laconic... Each tells a truth, a whole truth, but never the whole truth (but this is true of all storytelling). Details are suppressed, secondary characters vanish, sometimes the “important” aspect of the story is sidestepped in order to highlight a poignant detail."

The New Yorker took notice
"To a contemporary reader like Cole, fait divers also have another characteristic: they are eminently tweetable. As he began to compose his own versions, which he calls “small fates” to differentiate them from the French, Cole realized they’d do well on Twitter. He’s been at it for a few months, and the results are riveting, providing a snapshot of life in Nigeria that invites and repels at once:

With a razor blade, Sikiru, of Ijebu Ode, who was tired of life,

separated himself from his male organ. But death eluded him."

One of the many Small Fates that make you either go Yeepa! or Ouch!

I love this recent one below about rogue trader Kweku Adoboli, for drawing attention to the racism of Western media reports; a Black Briton is 'British' until they fall foul of the law, then comes overt, repeated referencing of their origin.

Almost always, as in the Abdullahi Ibrahim one above, there is an artful missing-of-the-point in order to tease out that "poignant detail."

According to Cole: "These pieces are generally not events of the kind that alter a nation’s course. They are not about movie stars or, with exceptions, famous politicians. They are about the small fates of ordinary people. The idea is not to show that Lagos, or Abuja, or Owerri, are worse than New York, or worse than Paris. Rather, it’s a modest goal: to show that what happens in the rest of the world happens in Nigeria too, with a little craziness all our own mixed in. In this odd sort of way, bad news is good news because these instances of bad news reveal a whole world of ongoing human experience that is often ignored or oversimplified."

Occasionally in square brackets, the author will 'come out of character' to break TCSF down some more, like when responding to complaints he referred to a man awaiting trial as a 'murderer'. "Feel free to google Arowolo. Is there a reasonable doubt?" he asked. The Small Fates, though drawn from reality, are far from straight news, legal transcripts or policy papers, he maintained. And in any case, "we poets, you know, are bastards, and will continue to be."

TCSF has been so successful that many have been getting in on the act, and Cole indulged them, by posting assignments: links to newspaper stories his followers could try their hands at turning into Small Fates, tagged '#tcsf' on twitter. The very best would be retweeted by Cole to his 2000-plus followers. Many tweeted their own Small Fates, but few got the distinction of being retweeted by the author, inspiring this priceless tweet below by
Ebuka Obi-Uchendu. So good, even Teju Cole retweeted it.

Teju Cole's tweets

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