Author Spotlight: Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith creates worlds. Which is not to say “she’s just a writer” or “she’s just an author” because it’s more than that.

For context, Smith is the author of many novels you’ve probably heard of: White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, Changing My Mind, and NW, to name a few. But the novelist is also known for her contributions to short fiction and brilliant essays to publications such as The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and The New York Review of Books.

Not to mention, she’s been a professor of creative writing at New York University for nearly a decade (September 2010). From London to Cambridge to Harvard, it suffices to say, Smith’s been living quite a cosmopolitan life. And over the years, she’s become even more popular over the years—so, on second thought, maybe you are familiar with her already.

Still, writers who have garnered such high praise can often be intimidating from the outside looking in, but hopefully, this friendly introduction will ease your voyage into her world, as well as those she’s created for us.

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Zadie Smith
Where Should I Start?

The first of Zadie Smith’s books that I read was On Beauty (for no reason other than the fact that the title was inspired by another book I love, On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry). So it works if you start with that one, because it’s really great and super readable, but you could also tackle White Teeth first, which is probably the more popular of the two—that one was adapted into a TV series in the UK also, so it could be a fun way to go if you’re wanting to see it play out on the small screen. But if you like to read ahead, it may interest you to check out her most recent effort, Swing Time, which released last year.

Why Should I Care?

It may sound strange, but I am not magnetically drawn to fiction the way I am to other genres—I’m typically most compelled by stories with real characters. I’ll read any memoir. However, time and time again, Smith has been my only exception; her writing is totally engulfing and endlessly creative. She just knows how to write and thinks in such a relevant way. The magic she manages to strike in her works feels simultaneously timeless and relevant.

And that’s the thing about Smith—she knows how to write people. To the point that it’s like she’s opening a door for you, and walking you through as you come to learn who these characters are, for their flaws, their complications and imperfections, and why you dislike them sometimes and like them at others. But that’s what makes a character: a balance of likeability and unlikability with a tinge of faulty flaws and self-awareness. There is a sense of cordiality to even the least amiable of characters. That’s what I fell in love with in On Beauty.

Where Can I Find Her Work?

If you don’t have a bookstore nearby (I’m sorry), or money (I am so sorry) to spend on a new one right away, or you really just can’t wait to start reading her now, you’re in luck. Smith’s writing can easily be found all over the web. For example, her 2013 essay “Joy” can be found in The New York Review of Books, while more of her fiction can be read at The New Yorker.

She recently penned a really fascinating and relevant piece about the 2017 film Get Out for Harper’s Magazine. These are just a few (cost-efficient) ways of getting a little taste of her writing style

The closest you can get to finding Smith on social media (I swoon at her lack of social media presence) is on her Facebook page.

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Carliann Rittman
the authorCarliann Rittman
Contributing Writer
Currently at NYU, probably feverishly reading messy memoirs about musicians.