Sunday, January 15, 2006

Had John Updike Been African...

Teju Cole is the current (and temporary) pseudonym of a rather nomadic blogger, who will be posting about his travels in Nigeria for a few weeks. One of his comments about getting access to good material caught my eye:

One morning as I walk down our street to where the Isheri Road goes under the Lagos-Sagamu Expressway Bridge, I witness a collision between two cars. The drivers both kill their engines in the middle of the road, jump out of their vehicles, and start beating each other up. Fists connecting with faces, right there in front of me. This is Lagos.

Well, this is wonderful, I think. Life hangs out here. The pungent details are all around me. Here's the material that can really hit a reader between the eyes. A gossip-lover's paradise.

One week later, I see another fight, at the very same spot. All the touts in the vicinity join in this one. Pandemonium, but a completely normal kind of pandemonium, that fizzles out after about ten minutes. End of brawl. Everyone goes back to their normal business. I suddenly feel sorry for all those who, as writers, have to ply their trade from some sleepy American suburb, writing divorce scenes symbolized by the very slow washing of dishes. Had John Updike been African, he would have won the Nobel Prize twenty years ago. I'm sure of it. His material killed him. Shillington, Pennsylvania simply didn’t measure up to his extravagant gifts. And sadder yet are those who don't even have a fraction of Updike's talent, and yet have to hoe the same arid patch for stories. I could cry of boredom just thinking about it.

More than a little truth in this, I think. (Crap, maybe I should get out of Pennsylvania too...)

A Hint: If this interests you, you should read more of Teju Cole soon, before the blog disappears.


Shandygaff said...

A tangent:
There's an Updike poem in the new book on Penna poets, Common Wealth. Updike's poem is entitled "Shillington" and ends with the lines:

We have one home, the first, and leave that one.
The having and leaving go on together.

There's a review of the book in today's Philly Inq:

Ed (who hopes to soon be blogging again)

3:04 PM  
Ruchira Paul said...

And Graham Greene? To which continent should he have belonged, to qualify?

7:40 PM  

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