Teju Cole is Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard. His most recent book, co-authored with the photographer Fazal Sheikh, is Human Archipelago. (July 2019)

NYR DAILY

Carrying a Single Life: On Literature and Translation

A lithograph reproduction of a scene from an ancient Greek vase depicting the flight from Troy, with Aeneas carrying his father Anchises on his back, nineteenth century

Can we draw a link between the intricate and often modest work of writers and translators, and the bold and costly actions of activists? Is the work of literature connected to the risks some people undertake to save others? I believe so—because acts of language can themselves be acts of courage, just as both literature and activism alert us to the arbitrary and essentially conventional nature of borders. How can literature help us?