Teju Cole's Seven Short Stories About Drones is a series of Tweets, all published within twenty minutes on 14 January 2013 to the author's Twitter feed.
The first tweet functions as a title for the work, announcing "Seven short stories about drones". The subsequent seven tweets are numbered 1 to 7, and a final unnumbered tweet includes a link to an article about the United States military's drone program in the Middle East and beyond. The seven 'short stories' each blend or juxtapose a famous line from a famous literary novel with text fragments about drone warfare. The novels are, in order, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ulysses by James Joyce, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, The Trial by Franz Kafka, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and The Stranger by Albert Camus. Cole adds to these quotations memoir-like statements ("My parents are inconsolable"), poetic utterances ("Blood on the walls. Fire from heaven.") and fragments that sound more like news headlines or political propaganda ("The program saves American lives"). The effect is to radically juxtapose familiar lines often encountered in the classroom or home with the fragments of lost, unnamed, untold lives as they appear on Twitter, telling a story of (at the time) little-discussed US military operation abroad. Drone operation is anonymous and impersonal, even actively disowned; Cole's tweets contrast this with the canonical, heavily authorized nature of the literary works he references, many of which are focused on the life or experiences of a particular individual whose experiences have come to be seen as in some way emblematic or essential.
The tweets were not threaded, so that each would appear individually and unconnected on his user's feeds, interspersed with other users' tweets, although each of the 'short stories' is numbered in sequence, so each points to the presence of the others. Because of the way Twitter feeds operate, the tweets could actually be encountered in reverse order for a user scrolling back through their feed, although for a user who was following the feed in real-time, the tweets would appear in their feed in sequence, embedded within - and perhaps indistinguishable from - news feeds, advertisements, and diary-style personal updates that make up Twitter. The audience of these Tweets would be twofold; followers of Teju Cole would encounter all the tweets in sequence, but each tweet followed its own path of dissemination, retweeted by Cole's followers and by the followers of those followers, so each has the potential to become detached from the 'Seven Short Stories' series to function as its own standalone mini-story. eg. the tweet "5. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was killed by a Predator drone" has been retweeted 500 times. Each of Cole's tweets would also be experienced differently by different twitter users because of their juxtaposition within each user's unique twitter feed. For example, a user following exclusively news feeds - tweets of news headlines - would experience the tweets differently from someone following primarily personal feeds. Cole's work thus uses the Twitter medium to invite questions about high/low art, and whose lives and stories attract attention.
Seven Short Stories About Drones builds on Cole's earlier work, Small Fates, a series of more than a thousand tweets giving short, poetic accounts of crimes drawn from the headlines of Nigerian newspapers, inspired by the French journalistic tradition of fait divers (he discusses this work on his website; URL: http://www.tejucole.com/other-words/small-fates/ ).
The URL provided is to a Storify page by Josh Begly that archives these tweets. Teju Cole's Twitter handle is @tejucole, although he left Twitter in 2014.
What might you say are the "literary qualities" of this work?