Zadie Smith’s essays are some of my favourite writings. She takes an idea and pursues it with thoughtful care.
On social Media: “My worry is narrower: myself, my family. I can’t stand the phones and don’t want them in my life in any form. They make me feel anxious, depressed, dead inside, unhinged etc. But I fully support anyone who finds them delightful and a profound asset to their existence! Different strokes for different folks.”
She attempts to never self-delude: “I’m not delusional – I don’t envision people casting their devices en masse into burning bins any time soon. (And I’m as addicted to my laptop as any user of an iPhone.) “
And offers no quick fixes:
“Do you have any secret techniques for overcoming self-doubt?
As you know, there isn’t really any solution to self-doubt. In the end, you just have to write and doubt simultaneously”
And gives insights in to how things practically are with no magical techniques or insights: Are creative writing MAs a waste of time for talentless saps, polish for the moderately talented or a way to invigorate the literary tradition?
None. In my class, we spend 14 weeks reading works of literature and philosophy, mostly by long-dead people, and then my students write essays about what they have read and then we discuss these books, trying to understand how each one works. In between times, a smaller group of students will show me the novel or stories they’re writing and in a series of meetings we discuss their work, try to edit it and improve it, just as my best editors do with me. I never imagine that I am, by doing this, either saving literature or destroying it. It’s just a group of people appreciating and analysing literature – and also hoping to write it.
This echoes with my experience of creative classes.
To me, she is rightly concerned about the local and narrow. Her family. Her friends. Her students.
But she is a writer. She engages with the world (she comes to writing through writing and reading).
On the one hand, she’s like to be known as herself in the way Don selling can. Rather than a voice of a black female writer.
But as I have often thought we hold multi personalities all at the same time:
“I’m a black person, also a woman, also a wife and mother, a Brit, a European – for the moment – a Londoner, a New Yorker, a writer, a feminist, a second-generation Jamaican, a member of the African diaspora, a Game of Thrones-er, an academic, a comedy-nerd, a theory-dork, a hip-hop-head and so on.
I am delighted to be all these things and everyone, no matter where they are from – if they really think about it – will find themselves with a similar plurality of communities. At different moments, you’ll feel the pull of certain commitments more strongly, especially if an aspect of your identity is particularly embattled.
But the whole debate can fall into a kind of trap. I know the argument: no one calls Don DeLillo the “white American author Don DeLillo”, so why should I put up with being called “the black British author Zadie Smith”? But by that logic, the rhetorical pressure falls on this idea of neutrality, as if to be white is not to possess a race or an identity – is simply to be “the author” – whereas to be black is precisely to have an identity. And then from there you are forced into the corner where you find yourself arguing that to be truly great, truly “the author”, you must have your blackness forgotten, you must aspire to people seeing “beyond” it, “past” it.
It’s a version of that backhanded compliment I sometimes heard as a child: “Honestly, you’re just my mate, I don’t even think about your colour. I’m colour blind!” I think you have to reverse the concept to see how strange it is: “Oh, Don, I don’t even think about you being white any more, I just love your books!” No, I don’t desire this supposed neutrality. I am all the things I am – and also an author. It’s all inseparable, as Don and his whiteness are inseparable.”
What song lyric best describes you?
“And I just blame everything on you/ At least you know that’s what I’m good at” – Kanye West
Read more in the Guardian article here. I found the answers sometimes illuminating and pretty entertaining.
Read my earlier post on Zadie’s writing tips here plus some video of her in conversation.