Teju walked briskly through the aisles to greet his host. He began with a joke: ‘Una go church today?” which drew generous laughter from the crowd. “Those of you who did, hope you prayed for me because I was busy catching up on some sleep.” The room seemed to wear his glow as he fished out a book from his bag. He would not read from any of his books but from his article in Granta Magazine title, “Water no get enemy.”
An interactive session with renowned journalist, Kundle Ajbade, Executive Editor of TheNEWS, ensued. What was said to be a session was an intimation with his process and the grit of his conviction. Insinuations of Afro-pessimism were dispelled or silly labeling with empty meaning. “Just write… I mean, Lagos is shitty… People suffer.” Such is the reality that he paints in his narrative and commentary, one that many might perceive to be dark but to borrow another of his quotes, “Black is not Empty.” He seeks to draw out some meaning from it that lends itself to much more potential or possibility.
Keep writing. Even if it never gets to be published by a big-name publisher.
My favourite takeaway from the evening was Teju’s short story on his relationship with Philip Roth and a surreal experience at Roth’s funeral. I won’t attempt to retell the story lest I disrespect him by missing a detail. The lesson I learnt though was: Keep writing. Even if it never gets to be published by a big-name publisher.
I left Jazz Hole with the satisfaction that the voice of Teju Cole I heard that evening was as I had imagined all these years of reading his words in articles, his books and chirps on social media. Earthy, refreshing and genuinely deep in conviction and insight.
I was happy to go.