Stuff I’ve been up to: Salinger, Cambridge, etc

Tweeting, lots of it. Reading as well, and of course, writing: columns, fiction, magazine commissions…

Thursday last week (Feb 10) I spent the afternoon in the archives section of the University of East Anglia Library, trawling through JD Salinger’s letters to lifelong friend (and one of the few friends apparently had) Donald Hartog.

Salinger, widely portrayed as reclusive, comes out in those letters as witty, playful, self-deprecating.  The letters show that he held a great deal of regard and affection for Mr. Hartog, whom he referred to as “Don”.

The Salinger of these letters detested planes, airports, tourists, publishers, lawyers and journalists, but absolutely loved tennis – most of the letters contain a reference to a well-known tennis tournament (Wimbledon most often), and enjoyed living life away from the spotlight.

There is much to make the reader smile in those typewritten letters. (There are a few handwritten postcards as well, and some photos)

The letters were recently donated by Hartog’s daughter to UEA. There are strict copyright restrictions on them, prohibiting quoting from them in any way. I had fun reading – can’t remember ever handling a famous writer’s personal correspondence before now.

Read more about the letters in The UK Guardian, here


Last Wednesday (Feb 16) I was at St John’s College, Cambridge Uni, to meet up with Prof John Iliffe, retired Professor of African History at Cambridge, and Fellow of the College. Iliffe’s most recent book, OBASANJO, NIGERIA AND THE WORLD, published in January 2011, is a biography of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo – it is as far as I know the only biography of Obasanjo that has appeared in the last decade, and therefore the only one that covers his entire life until now.

Iliffe did not consult him in the writing of the book — the book is drawn from existing sources — Nigerian newspapers, published books (there’s an intimidating bibliography), and recently released British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) archives — the 30-year moratorium on the declassasification of FCO documents means that material pertaining to Obasanjo’s years as military Head of State (1976 to 1979) have only become available in recent years.

Oxford-based Nigerian scholar, Abdul Raufu Mustapha, describes the book as “an important examination of possibly the most controversial personality in modern Nigerian politics. The strength of this study is that it is an outsider’s calmer examination of a man who evokes such strong emotions that studies of him within Nigeria are necessarily tainted by widespread perceptions of who he is.”

I spent two or so wonderful hours discussing with Prof Iliffe, first over lunch in the College’s 500-year-old dining room (the College is actually 500 years old this year, and that building, as Iliffe pointed out to me, dates back to the very beginning), and then over coffee.

That visit was my third or fourth to Cambridge in the last four months. One of my previous visits was to listen to Chinua Achebe deliver the inaugural African Studies Lecture, in honour of Audrey Richards, founder (in 1965) of the University’s Centre of African Studies. I wrote about it for NEXT, here (CHINUA ACHEBE IN CAMBRIDGE).

After our discussion, Iliffe showed me Heffers Bookshop, on Trinity Street, not far from St. John’s. I spent well over an hour there. Picked up the following books:

Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris;

Microtrends by Mark J. Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne;

The Years of Talking Dangerously, by Geoffrey Nunberg;

Cleansed, by Sarah Kane; and

Colosseum, by Katie Ford.

My friend I met up with me at Heffers; we spent the next God-knows-how-many-hours talking about this-and-that, in the Homerton College dining-room.

Got back to Norwich around 11pm…


2 thoughts on “Stuff I’ve been up to: Salinger, Cambridge, etc

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Stuff I’ve been up to: Salinger, Cambridge, etc « Tolu Ogunlesi --

  2. Toluuuu…your friend I has a name. Shay fear dey catch you? Abi becuase my name is not yet hyperlinked all over the internet SMH. Anyhow, it was lovely seeing you…but you forgot to plug CUNS haba and the 1 million pounds golden clock…oh and it is the GREAT HALL not the dining room..this is Cambridge dear…we are royalty

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