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Teju Cole Uses Twitter to Create a Short Story Compiled Through Retweets

Open CityEvery Day is for the ThiefNigerian-American author Teju Cole is known for his innovative work on Twitter, most notably his Small Fates project, and his latest initiative is a similarly interesting use of the social media platform – a short story he wrote and shared out line by line amongst a group of people on Twitter and then retweeted their tweets onto his timeline to form a narrative.

Cole, author of Open City and the forthcoming Every Day is for the Thief, told David Vecsey from The 6th Floor that the story is titled “Hafiz” and “is a creative cousin to works like Shelley Jackson’s ‘Skin,’ a 2,095-word story that was told one tattooed word at a time on the bodies of 2,095 volunteers.”

Cole speaks about the nature of retweeting someone and the anxiety it can cause, but says that he thought it could also be used to do something unusual together. “‘Hafiz’ was a small attempt to put a number of people into a collaborative situation, to create a ‘we’ out of a story I might simply have published in the conventional way,” Cole explains.

When the merits of Twitter are debated, one sentiment invariably is at the top of the con column: 140 characters are seldom enough to express the full weight of an idea. Or at least an idea that’s worth expressing.

People have found ways around this: conjoined tweets, live-tweeting, etc. … The novelist Teju Cole expanded on this theme on Wednesday, when he posted an entire short story via tweet. Yes, that has been done before. But Cole’s project was different, because the individual tweets were posted not by him, but by his followers, and then @TejuCole retweeted them in chronological order to form a sort of quilted story.

Margaret Eby from NY Daily News has shared the story written out in full, while NPR’s Tell Me More has Storified the tweets:

Teju Cole, author of “Open City” and the forthcoming novel “Every Day is For the Thief,” is a master of the Twitter essay. In one series, he posted the first line of several novels as interrupted by a drone strike, in another he transformed police blotter items from Nigerian newspapers into tiny short stories.

Cole’s latest innovation is cobbling together a short story from his Twitter feed, retweeting statements from a pool of people to make a collective narrative, a sort of technology-enabled exquisite corpse.

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