Zadie Smith: Literary Queen

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Zadie Smith is everything. I’m not exaggerating. She. Is. Everything. An exquisite writer, a brilliant essayist, a gifted public speaker…the list goes on. Born in 1975 in London to a Jamaican mother and an English father, Smith started writing in college at Cambridge and was approached by a literary agent after some of her pieces were published in an anthology of student work. 

Smith wrote her first book, White Teeth (DB 50261), during her last year at Cambridge. Published when she was just 25, it follows two families, the Bangladeshi Iqbals and the British Jones’s, across multiple generations, investigating cultural curiosities, genealogical mysteries, and the day-to-day banality of London life. The many strands of the narrative converge in the book’s final pages, delivering one of those magical, heartbreaking conclusions that make it hard to start reading anything else.

Twelve years and two novels later, Smith released NW (DB 75525), what I’d classify as the most experimental of her works. Fluctuating between first and third person narrative, and peppered with stream-
of-consciousness and even screenplay-style dialogue, the novel tells the intersecting stories of four characters in a neighborhood in Northwest London. It’s a little less accessible than her earlier books, but I’d argue that the payoff is greater.

Swing Time, Smith’s latest novel, was just published on November 15th. Drawing on her personal experiences with music and performance, Smith explores the relationship between two female friends, who meet for the first time in a tap class in 1982. Moving between England and West Africa and touching on themes of success, friendship, music, art, betrayal, racial tensions, and family, Swing Time has already received glowing reviews. Ron Charles of The Washington Post calls it “a story at once intimate and global, as much about childhood friendship as international aid, as fascinated by the fate of an unemployed single mother as it is by the omnipotence of a world-class singer.” We don’t have copies of it yet, but the NLS is in the process of recording it, so we hope to have it available for patrons soon!