NPR Morning Edition recently ran an interview with Teju Cole about his most recent project called Small Fates. Cole is the recipient of the 2012 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for his novel Open City. Small Fates is a series of poetic snippets from Nigerian newspapers, which Cole has been posting on Twitter. It turns out Small Fates draws on a tradition of compressed news stories known as fait divers. The interview is a really nice description of the poetic use of this material to explore time and place. In some ways it reminds me a little of the cut-up technique that William S. Bouroughs popularized; albeit in a more lyrical, less dadaist form.

At about the 3 minute mark in the interview Cole mentions that he has recently been using content from historic New York newspapers using Chronicling America. For example:

Chronicling America is a software project I work on. Of course we were all really excited to hear Cole mention us on NPR. One thing that we were wondering is whether he could include shortened URLs to the newspaper page in Chronicling America in his tweets. Obviously this would be a clever publicity vehicle for the NEH funded National Digital Newspaper Program. It would also allow the Small Fates reader to follow the tweet to the source material, if they wanted more context.

Through the magic of Facebook, Twitter, good old email and Teju’s generosity I got in touch with him to see if he would be willing to include some shortened Chronicling America URLs in his tweets. His response indicated that he had clearly already thought about linking, but had decided not to. His reasons for not linking struck me as really interesting, and he agreed to let me quote them here:

I can’t include links directly in my tweets for three reasons.

The first is aesthetic: I like the way the tweets look as clean sentences. One wouldn’t wish to hyperlink a poem.

The second is artistic: I want people to stay here, not go off somewhere else and crosscheck the story. Why go through all the trouble of compression if they’re just going to go off and read more about it? What’s omitted from a story is, to me, an important part of a writer’s storytelling strategy.

And the third is practical: though I seldom use up all 140 characters, rarely do I have enough room left for a url string, even a shortened one.

I really loved this artistic (and pragmatic) rationale for not linking, and thought you might too.