Zadie Smith: Voice of a Generation

Thursday 21st, February 2019 / 07:00
By Luiza Brenner

Zadie Smith is coming to town in a presentation by Vancouver Writers Fest. With tickets for the event sold out months ago, the acclaimed British writer slash literary rockstar will talk about her work to date and her recent collection of essays, Feel Free.

Born in 1975 in Northwest London to a Jamaican mother and a British father, Zadie Smith is one of today’s best-selling authors and has won more prizes than one would mind keeping track of. In her 20s, Smith emerged as an original voice to her generation and was soon elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Her debut novel, White Teeth, published in 2000, was showered with literary awards, including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Guardian First Book Award.

Unlike authors who can’t seem to follow up first-hit-home-running books, Smith continues to deliver hit after hit. Her body of work discusses identity issues and an entanglement with family, class, culture, and politics.

In White Teeth, Smith portrays the changing landscape of Great Britain in the 1970s through the friendship of two World War II veterans. In The Autograph Man, she shifts her critical gaze to fame and celebrity culture by chronicling the life of an autograph collector. On Beauty, winner of the 2006 Orange Prize, is set in a fictionalized American New England college campus and tells the story of rivalry between two academic families. Swing Time (2016), her first novel written in the first person, explores the complexities of female friendships by following the lives of childhood friends growing up in council flats in London.

Even though Smith is best known for her novels, her essays are what give us the privilege to dive into the wonders of her mind. A regular contributor to the New Yorker and a professor of creative writing at New York University, Smith is, above all, a contemporary (and non-pretentious) thinker. She doesn’t claim to have expertise, nor aim to have the final say, on a subject – quite the contrary. By acknowledging her lack of “qualifications,” the author opens her latest book, aptly named Feel Free (2018), with an invitation to, indeed, feel free. She offers her essays “to be used, changed, dismantled, destroyed or ignored as necessary!”

From Brexit to Facebook, from Jay-Z to her mother’s obsession with bathrooms, no topic is too big or too small to be addressed. The ease with which she moves to and from them makes the reader (always referred to with a feminine pronoun) feel like she’s talking to a friend over dinner. She manages, brilliantly, to be casual and engaging, insightful and light-hearted, all at once.

On February 28, Smith will be in Vancouver for a conversation with Jael Richardson, author, broadcaster, and Director of The Festival of Literary Diversity. The duo will discuss Smith’s body of work, hopefully carrying the same casual, clever and contemporary spirit we see in her writing. As there are no tickets left, we can only hope for good coverage… and that the encore doesn’t take too long.

Zadie Smith in Conversation takes place on February 28 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.

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