Close
Enter your search into one or more of the boxes below:
You can refine your search by selecting from any of the options below:
Search
Your Shopping Basket
Total number of items: 0
Sub total: £0.00
Go to Checkout
Our Birmingham Shop
Books We're Talking About
Our Bristol Shop
Animators Survival Kit

Zadie Smith

About The Author


Zadie SmithZadie Smith was born in Brent and, at various points in her upbringing, explored her passions for tap dancing, musical theatre and jazz singing, before focussing on literature. She went on to study English at King's College, Cambridge. She is married to the writer Nick Laird and is a Professor of Fiction at New York University.

Her first published fiction appeared in 1995 edition of The Mays Anthology of Oxford and Cambridge Short Stories. Subsequent stories in the 1996 and 1997 editions resulted in her being approached by Simon Prosser, publishing director at Hamish Hamilton, to write a novel.

White Teeth was published in 2000. A bravura story of three families, one Indian, one white, one mixed, in north London and Oxford from World War II to the present day, it was to win the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Guardian First Book Award, James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, amongst many other prizes. It was adapted for television in 2002.

After editing and contributing to a collection of erotic short stories, Piece of Flesh, she struggled with writer's block before publishing The Autograph Man in 2002. This followed the exploits of a celebrity-obsessed buyer and seller of autographs as he hopes to engineer a meeting with a star from the Golden Age of Hollywood. She was then included in Granta magazine's decennial list of Best Young British Novelists, announced in 2003.

On Beauty (2005) was conceived in part as an homage to Howard's End by E M Forster, one of Smith's favourite writers. The liberal atheist Belsey family finds itself at odds with the the conservative Christian Kipps family, with the wives developing common cause despite their husbands' mutual enmity. The book won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the previous year's Man Booker Prize.

She edited a collection of character sketches entitled The Book of the Other People (2008), featuring contributions from authors including Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers, Miranda July, Nick Hornby and Chris Ware. This was followed in 2009 by Changing My Mind, a collection of essays and reviews written for publications including the Observer, the New Yorker and the Believer.

Nw by Zadie SmithHer new novel, NW, is set in the area of London where she grew up and to which she regularly returns. It follows four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan - as they try to build their adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. A dazzling portrait of contemporary London, it depicts a fragmented city in which the ability to transcend one's roots comes with the penalty of a loss of identity and community.

In this exclusive interview for Foyles, Zadie talks about James Joyce as the ultimate realist, how Dickens' portrait of London was the first she recognised as her own city and the advantage of being one writer amongst thousands in New York.

She also shares some of her books she has most enjoyed, both recent reads and all-time favourites, including Chris Ware's eagerly awaited new graphic novel, John Jeremiah Sullivan's essays on unseen America and the book by Ursula K Le Guin that made her feel like a child again.

 

Questions & Answers

The London you portray is less of a cultural melting pot and more of an agglomeration of largely discrete communities. Why do you think so many districts are becoming insular and isolated now?

Belief in the state - and in the very idea of communal responsibilities - has evaporated. Partly this is an ideological shift and partly a necessary post-rationalization after the recent near-collapse of the financial system. Simply put, the rich have got richer and the poor, poorer. But you really didn't need to ask a novelist to get the answer to that, did you? Even the dogs in the street know that....

 

NW features some ingenious sleights of typography and structure. Do these more experimental aspects come from your admiration of writers like David Foster Wallace and George Saunders?

Not really - neither of them do much with typography, or structure actually; their innovations are more about tone. Anyway, I think we should be a bit wary of labelling certain techniques 'experimental' as if it's just a set of tools one picks up to lend whatever you're writing a trace of hipster cool... it's like those superstores of 'alternative' hipster taste; American Outfitters and so on... I hate that idea. Everything I do is an attempt to get close to the real, as I experience it, and the closer you get to the reality of experience the more bizarre it SHOULD look on the page and sound in the mouth because our real experience doesn't come packaged in a neat three act structure. For me, Joyce is the ultimate realist because he is trying to convey how experience really feels. And he found it to be so idiosyncratic he needed to invent a new language for it. All I was trying to do in NW was tell fewer lies then last time, and it came out the way it came out.

 

In 'Speaking in Tongues' an essay included in Changing My Mind, you wrote about the way that your working-class voice has gradually been supplanted by that of your life at Cambridge and as part of the literary milieu. Did the writing of NW allow you to rediscover some part of you that had been suppressed?

In that essay I was trying to describe some of the alienating side effects a 'good' education can bring to a working class child. But going to Cambridge didn't make my very large family disappear, or all my friends, or the twenty years of my past. It's all still here and I'm still a part of it, even if I get the piss taken out of me sometimes for my round vowels. It was obviously a pleasure to return to the old neighbourhood, writing-wise, but in another sense it was purely strategic: I knew I wanted to push the envelope style-wise and I thought, 'This is going to be hard enough without having to set the action in, say, New York, a place I barely know.' This book was so hard to write I felt the least I could give myself was a nest of streets I didn't have to Google or visit to describe. And I cheered myself with the thought of Joyce in Trieste writing to relatives back home in Dublin, asking after the name of this or that Dublin butcher's shop or side alley. You can be adventurous and deeply parochial at the same time!

 

Early on, Leah hands over money to a local alcoholic on the false premise of needing it for an emergency. Is her simmering frustration at being duped more about feeling angry with herself for no longer understanding a community she was raised in?

This is a question for the reader. What does a host owe a desperate guest? These are very old ethical questions - they run all the way back to ancient Greece - but I think they're for each reader to decide for themselves.

 

There are several episodes, varying from the absurd to the fatal, where the disenfranchised young clash with those around them. Has London become a place where only the children of the middle classes can feel at home?

The opposite. The middle classes seem fantastically fearful and awkward in London, the very opposite of 'feeling at home.' They live in this constant state of anxiety that someone is trying to take something from them. It's the disenfranchised who are truly at home in the streets. But feeling at home in the streets is poor compensation for a bad education, no career prospects and no future.

 

You said in a recent interview: 'When you have London in a novel, you don't need much else'. Do you have a favourite fictional portrayal of the city?

The Waste Land is obviously wonderful. Actually, my husband recently had a poem in an anthology of five hundred years of London poetry and looking through that I thought it might be in poetry that London is best described. But when I was a kid I guess Dickens was the first writer I read who seemed to be a true citizen of my city.

 

You've been based in the United States for some time now. Have you found the literary culture there to be very different from that of Britain?

Only in the sense that I seem to get more work done in America, no-one bothers me, and I'm just another writer amongst hundreds of thousands. There's about thirty thousand scribblers in New York alone. I work with about 30 of them. In England I suppose I feel more scrutinized, and in an uncomfortable way. In America it's easier for me to just keep my head down, go to the library and get the words done.

 

You were very active in the campaign to try to save Kensal Rise Library from closure. What part did libraries play in the development of your own love of reading?

They were essential. They're still essential. I am in a library for the greater part of most of my days. They've been my home since childhood. And they are probably the real reason I stay close to university campuses.

Author Picks

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble...
(Paperback)
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
 
I find the idea of listing your all-time favourite books a bit overwhelming; I’ve opted here for a mix of some I’ve recently loved and others I’ve loved a long time. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a decade. It’s described in a blurb as “A non-fiction Middlemarch of the underclass” – I don’t think I can do much better than that. Concerning a large, chaotic family in the Bronx during the 1990s, it’s an honest account of street life – from drug dealing to child-rearing. Ms LeBlanc spent ten years embedded, interviewing, living with her subjects, listening to them. An extraordinary feat of research and patience. Reading it you realize that class is a cocoon. Most of us have have absolutely zero idea how anybody else is living. I think this book is a masterpiece.
Delivery:
 
£12.99
 

Currently out of stock

Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£12.99
 

Stores - out of stock

A People's History of London
(Paperback)
John Rees; Lindsey German
 
Does what it says on the tin: a look at the history of the people of London. It’s wonderful to recall the radical past of such staid tourist spots as St Paul’s Cathedral and Trafalgar Square. Levellers and lollards, rioters and rebels, dockers and match girls…. An irrepressible book about an irrepressible community.
Delivery:
 
£12.99
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£12.99
 
The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas
(Paperback)
Gertrude Stein
 
I recently took part in a 48 hour continuous live reading of Stein’s Making of Americans in Brooklyn, New York. I thought I’d hate reading her aloud, but in fact the section I got handed was really beautiful. So then I picked this up off my ‘should have read it 20 years ago’ pile. And it’s so funny and thrilling. What a house they ran together, and what amazing people passed through it: Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Hemingway, Fitzgerald!
Delivery:
 
£9.99
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£9.99
 
Species of Spaces and Other Pieces
(Paperback)
Georges Perec; John Sturrock; John...
 
If you read it from front to back you will never be able to move through the everyday spaces of your world unthinkingly ever again.
Delivery:
 
£10.99
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£10.99
 
The Hour of the Star
(Paperback)
Giovanni Pontiero
 
This, her final novel, is a good place to begin with the Brazilian legend. It’s the discursive portrayal of Macabéa. a starving girl from the slum, who knows nothing, is nothing, and dies alone like an animal. Somehow it’s also beautiful and funny.
Delivery:
 
£9.95
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£9.95
 

Stores - out of stock

Pale Fire
(Paperback)
Vladimir Nabokov; Mary McCarthy
 
Everyone has their own feeling about the best novel of the 20th century. For me, this is the one.
Delivery:
 
£9.99
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£9.99
 
Styles of Radical Will
(Paperback)
Susan Sontag
 
I don’t think many people would think this is Sontag’s best book - it’s a bit histrionic, especially the essay about Hanoi - but I can’t get over how elegant her style was, at only 36. I suppose every girl writer holds Woolf and Sontag somewhere amongst their heroes, and in this sense I’m typical. They’re just too great to deny. The essay on silence is my favourite.
Delivery:
 
£14.00
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£14.00
 

Stores - out of stock

The Dispossessed
(Paperback)
Ursula K. Le Guin
 
I don’t think I read a better novel last year. A friend who reads a lot of science fiction was trying to educate me on the topic, and this was the first book on the list. I felt like a child reading it – by which I mean I was totally subsumed in it. It was if the book was real and my life was the fiction.
Delivery:
 
£8.99
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£8.99
 
The Fire Next Time: WITH My Dungeon...
(Paperback)
James Baldwin
 
A model of how to be a political individual – with the emphasis laid equally on both words. And what a writer!
Delivery:
 
£11.99
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£11.99
 
The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica
(Paperback)
Ian Thomson
 
This is a good book to read this year, in the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence. If you’re Jamaican it’s a tough read, but an important one. It captures the creative brilliance of the island as well as the painful legacy of European and American involvement in our Caribbean destinies.
Delivery:
 
£8.99
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£8.99
 
Ways of Seeing
(Paperback)
John Berger
 
Maybe the strangest thing about this book is remembering that it accompanied a BBC TV series in 1972. They don’t make 'em like this anymore… I’m fond of it because my father always kept it with him, wherever he lived, in flats or old people’s homes, long after he’d been divorced and had only about five books to his name. I think it represented to him a time when there was a stronger desire, in the culture, to bring complicated ideas to the masses. I think it was probably the first book of “theory” I ever read. Anyway it’s a moving and polemical essay about property and art, seeing and owning.
Delivery:
 
£8.99
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£8.99
 
The Bathroom
(Paperback)
Jean Toussaint; Nancy Amphoux; Paul ...
 
A young man decides to live mainly in his bathroom. It’s a book about the desire not to move, not to have time pass – basically a hymn to the joys of immobility, maybe best appreciated by readers the same age as the protagonist, a self-described “twenty five going on twenty seven”. I teach it to my students who always love it. Watch out for that dart in the forehead!
Delivery:
 
£9.50
 

Currently out of stock

Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£9.50
 

Stores - out of stock

Building Stories
(Hardback)
Chris Ware
There’s no writer alive whose work I love more than Chris Ware. The only problem is it takes him ten years to draw these things and then I read them in a day and have to wait another ten years for the next one.
Delivery:
 
£35.00
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£35.00
 
The Complete Essays
(Paperback)
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne; M. A....
 
You can just dip in at any point and find something essential. Heavy to carry around, though. One for the e-reader?
Delivery:
 
£20.00
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£20.00
 
Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side ...
(Paperback)
John Jeremiah Sullivan
 
I was totally blown away by this collection of the new new new journalism, or however many "news" we’re up to these days. I think I like it as much – at times, even more – than Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never do Again. And that, for me, is saying a lot.
Delivery:
 
£10.99
 
Click & Collect:

Order now to collect from 11am today. In stock items only. Click for more info.

 
£10.99
 

Available Titles By This Author

NW
(Paperback)
Zadie Smith
 
 
£8.99
 
On Beauty
(Paperback)
Zadie Smith
 
 
£8.99
 
The Autograph Man
(Paperback)
Zadie Smith; Roderick Mills
 
 
£8.99
 
White Teeth
(Paperback)
Zadie Smith
 
£8.99
 
Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays
(Paperback)
Zadie Smith
 
 
£9.99
 

Past Events for this Author

Latest Blog
Ben Macintyre Introduces His New Book, SAS: Rogue Heroes
26/09/2016

Ben Macintyre Introduces His New Book, SAS: Rogue Heroes, plus read the Prologue.

A Stinky #FoyesFive!
25/09/2016

Andi celebrates Birmingham Grand Central's First Birthday with her bestselling and rather stinky picture books!

Caz Hildebrand's Top Ten Herbs
20/09/2016

Herbarium author Caz Hildebrand reveals her top ten all-time favourite herbs

View all Blog Entries
Twitter
Show/Hide Tweets
© W&G Foyle Ltd