On a gloomy Sunday evening, the brilliant Teju Cole was in Lagos. The rain had spread itself all over earlier on in the morning. The roads however, unlike a typical Lagos day, were free of traffic. The Atlantic Ocean had swelled with water, and bits of rain fell. Teju Cole was in town. A rarity of some sorts in Nigeria, a country that has exported more brains than any other product and country.
Teju Cole is not exactly small, neither is he huge, but his presence occupies the small room full of books and vinyl records in Jazzhole, a bookshop in Ikoyi, Lagos. When he takes over the microphone, his voice comes out with a boom. His face is serious and the instructions that leave his mouth are clip: “no videos, just still pictures. I don’t like being videoed. Still pictures are okay.” Everyone in the room seems to comply. He reads from an essay published in Granta Magazine, and at that moment, talking about Lagos bar beach, he enthrals the audience.
A writer, speaking to a room or writers and readers, but I also feel, he’s speaking to a whole room of silent artists hidden behind books and vinyl records, both dead and alive, listening. As in this small room, we also talk of living and dead artists; first Salman Rushdie, then Philip Roth. He talks of Palestine, and the wrist band with the Palestine flag that he never takes off.
Questions are asked about his relationship with Salman Rushdie, following the fall out they had after PEN America gave Charlie Hebdo a freedom of expression award. Teju Cole doesn’t give a damn, he doesn’t care. He only sticks to what he believes in and stands by it.
The intimacy of Jazzhole makes for more intimate revelations by Teju Cole, who gives the backstory behind his book Blind Spot, “one day I woke up and couldn’t see from my left eye.” Such stories draw the artist, seen as a god, closer to terrestrial beings. But even the artist turns a such experience into a gigantic work of art, Blind Spot.