2021 Keynote Address
Wednesday, February 17, 2021 at 5 p.m.
Teju Cole is currently the Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard. He is formerly the photography critic for The New York Times Magazine from 2015-2019 (a position he originated). In both writing and photography, Cole combines his eye for beauty with his capacity to perceive human and civic truth. His first novel, Open City, was awarded the New York City Book Award for Fiction, the Internationaler Literaturpreis, and the Windham Campbell Prize for Fiction, and was named one of the best books of the year by The Guardian, Newsweek, The Atlantic,The New York Times and more. Cole has even been heralded as “among the most gifted writers of his generation” by Salman Rushdie.
His second title, Known and Strange Things, collects a series of essays that span art, literature and politics, with topics ranging from the White Savior Industrial Complex and Black Lives Matter to Snapchat and Shakespeare. It was named one of TIME’s Top 10 Nonfiction Books, as well as to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Nonfiction list and was one of Harper’s Bazaar’s 13 Best Books. His novella, Every Day Is for the Thief, has been “widely praised as one of the best fictional depictions of Africa in recent memory” ( The New Yorker) and was named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, the Telegraph, The Globe and Mail and NPR.
Cole’s incredible solo exhibit in Milan, Punto d'ombra, was published as a gorgeous collection of photographs in the book Blind Spot. Each full-color photo was accompanied by selections of lyrical prose that explore “the mysteries of the ordinary” ( The New York Times Book Review). Blind Spot was named one of TIME’s Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2017.
Recently, Cole was invited by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago to curate an exhibit, titled “Go Down Moses” after the well-known spiritual song. The exhibit explores themes of freedom, suffering, the environment and the future—and marks Cole’s major curatorial debut.