This weekend I saw Zadie Smith at the Wexner Center. Like returning from an Available Light show, I left ready to write. While I felt so-so about her debut novel, White Teeth, I am interested in reading some of her later work. That's what I love about author talks; they give you context to a person's work. In Smith's case, she's left behind her multi-cultural comic novels for the time being. She wrote a few of those, went into an essay phase, and she's now writing work that is less about the humor of everyday life.
Or so I've gathered from the talk.
There were a bounty of references to her latest essay (and one of my favorite as a copywriter and creative writer), 'Find Your Beach' from The New York Review of Books. However, that's very new. She led the talk (whose subject was race and culture in literature) with a reading from 'Speaking in Tongues' (2009). This set the mood for her own personal experiences with adapting to different 'languages' as she moved between classes and among other races. And it wraps up with an elegant deconstruction of Barack Obama's appeal and his own ability to changes 'tongues'.
What followed her reading was part talk, part Q+A, and all wit. I can only include what I wrote down when I wasn't laughing.
On gentrification: "Nobody is saying it's more fun to be shot up in the streets than it is to eat cupcakes. Obviously, cupcakes are great. Smith goes on to talk about returning home to a neighborhood that's been gentrified, after all the tax funds have been dumped into it. She summarized it as 'humiliating'; as if you weren't worthy of this attention when you lived there. "It's not a city if you can't have relatively normal people living in it. Nothing to do but eat cupcakes."
On writing: "Writing is always about trying to be more honest."
On why she writes multi-culturally: "It was lovely to read Jane eyre, but she's got nothing to do with me. Where are my people, you know?"
On past vs. present: "That's true. There's nothing interesting about my present."
For me, the best part of this talk was the fact that she sold out the Mershon Auditorium. It's rare to have an outspoken, level-headed literary personality nowadays. Seeing Zadie Smith in person is a pleasure and one that I highly recommend to any individual interested in fiction or writing.