Zadie Smith

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Zadie Smith

Smith announcing the 2010 National Book Critics Circle award finalists in fiction
Smith announcing the 2010 National Book Critics Circle award finalists in fiction
BornSadie Adeline Smith[1]
(1975-10-25) 25 October 1975 (age 46)
Brent, London, England
  • Novelist
  • professor
Alma materKing's College, Cambridge
Literary movement
(m. 2004)
RelativesDoc Brown (brother)

Zadie Adeline Smith FRSL (born Sadie Adeline Smith; 25 October 1975)[2] is an English[3] novelist, essayist, and short-story writer. Her debut novelWhite Teeth (2000), immediately became a best-seller and won a number of awards. She has been a tenured professor in the Creative Writing faculty of New York University since September 2010.[4]

Early life[edit]

Smith was born in Willesden in the north-west London borough of Brent to a Jamaican mother, Yvonne Bailey, and an English father, Harvey Smith,[5] who was 30 years his wife's senior.[6] At the age of 14, she changed her name from Sadie to Zadie.[7]

Smith's mother grew up in Jamaica and emigrated to England in 1969.[2] Smith's parents divorced when she was a teenager. She has a half-sister, a half-brother, and two younger brothers (one is the rapper and stand-up comedian Doc Brown, and the other is the rapper Luc Skyz). As a child, Smith was fond of tap dancing,[2] and in her teenage years, she considered a career in musical theatre. While at university, Smith earned money as a jazz singer, and wanted to become a journalist. Despite earlier ambitions, literature emerged as her principal interest.


Smith attended the local state schools, Malorees Junior School and Hampstead Comprehensive School, and King's College, Cambridge, where she studied English literature. In an interview with The Guardian in 2000, Smith corrected a newspaper assertion that she left Cambridge with a double First. "Actually, I got a Third in my Part Ones", she said.[8] She graduated with upper second-class honours.[9]

Smith seems to have come to mutual agreement with the popular British comedy double act Mitchell and Webb that she just wasn't funny, when all three were studying at Cambridge University in the 1990s and she auditioned for the Cambridge Footlights at a breakfast meeting of scrambled eggs. This realisation came despite her father, Harvey, bathing the family in British comedy during their childhoods.[10]

At Cambridge, Smith published a number of short stories in a collection of new student writing called The Mays Anthology. They attracted the attention of a publisher, who offered her a contract for her first novel. Smith decided to contact a literary agent and was taken on by A. P. Watt.[11] Smith returned to guest-edit the anthology in 2001.[12]


Smith's début novel White Teeth was introduced to the publishing world in 1997 before it was completed. On the basis of a partial manuscript, an auction for the rights was begun, which was won by Hamish Hamilton. Smith completed White Teeth during her final year at the University of Cambridge. Published in 2000, the novel immediately became a best-seller and received much acclaim. It was praised internationally and won a number of awards, among them the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Betty Trask Award. The novel was adapted for television in 2002.[2] In July 2000, Smith's debut was also the subject for discussion in a controversial essay of literary criticism by James Wood entitled "Human, All Too Inhuman", where Wood critiques the novel as part of a contemporary genre of hysterical realism where "‘[i]nformation has become the new character" and human feeling is absent from contemporary fiction.[13] In an article for The Guardian in October 2001, Smith responded to the criticism by agreeing with the accuracy of the term and that she agreed with Wood's underlying argument that "any novel that aims at hysteria will now be effortlessly outstripped".[14] However, she rejected her debut being categorised alongside major authors such as David Foster Wallace, Salman Rushdie, and Don DeLillo and the dismissal of their own innovations on the basis of being hysterical realism.[14] Responding earnestly to Wood's concerns about contemporary literature and culture, Smith describes her own anxieties as a writer and argued that fiction should be "not a division of head and heart, but the useful employment of both".[14]

Smith served as writer-in-residence at the ICA in London and subsequently published, as editor, an anthology of sex writing, Piece of Flesh, as the culmination of this role.

Smith's second novel, The Autograph Man, was published in 2002 and was a commercial success, although it was not as well received by critics as White Teeth.

After the publication of The Autograph Man, Smith visited the United States as a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.[15] She started work on a still-unreleased book of essays, The Morality of the Novel (a.k.a. Fail Better), in which she considers a selection of 20th-century writers through the lens of moral philosophy. Some portions of this book presumably appear in the essay collection Changing My Mind, published in November 2009.[16]

Smith's third novel, On Beauty, was published in September 2005. It is set largely in and around Greater Boston. It attracted more acclaim than The Autograph Man: it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize,[17] and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.[18]

Later in the same year, Smith published Martha and Hanwell, a book that pairs two short stories about two troubled characters, originally published in Granta and The New Yorker respectively. Penguin published Martha and Hanwell with a new introduction by the author as part of their pocket series to celebrate their 70th birthday.[19] The first story, "Martha, Martha", deals with Smith's familiar themes of race and postcolonial identity, while "Hanwell in Hell" is about a man struggling to cope with the death of his wife.[20] In December 2008 she guest-edited the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.[21]

After teaching fiction at Columbia University School of the Arts, Smith joined New York University as a tenured professor of fiction in 2010.[22]

Between March and October 2011, Smith was the monthly New Books reviewer for Harper's Magazine.[23][24] She is also a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books.[25] In 2010, The Guardian newspaper asked Smith for her "10 rules for writing fiction". Among them she declared: "Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied."[26]

Smith's novel NW was published in 2012. It is set in the Kilburn area of north-west London, the title being a reference to the local postcode, NW6. NW was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize and the Women's Prize for Fiction.[27] NW was made into a BBC television film directed by Saul Dibb and adapted by Rachel Bennette.[28] Starring Nikki Amuka-Bird and Phoebe Fox,[29] it was broadcast on BBC Two on 14 November 2016.[30][31]

In 2015 it was announced that Smith, along with her husband Nick Laird, was writing the screenplay for a science fiction movie to be directed by French filmmaker Claire Denis.[32] Smith later said that her involvement had been overstated and that she had simply helped to polish the English dialogue for the film.[33]

Smith's fifth novel, Swing Time, was published in November 2016. It drew inspiration from Smith's childhood love of tap dancing.[34] It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017.

Smith is a contributor to Margaret Busby's 2019 anthology New Daughters of Africa (as is her mother Yvonne Bailey-Smith).[35][36]

Smith's first collection of short stories, Grand Union, was published on 8 October 2019. In 2020 she published six essays in a collection entitled Intimations, the royalties from which she said she would be donating to the Equal Justice Initiative and New York’s COVID-19 emergency relief fund.[37]

Personal life[edit]

Smith met Nick Laird at Cambridge University. They married in 2004 in the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge. Smith dedicated On Beauty to "my dear Laird". She also uses his name in passing in White Teeth: "An' all the good-lookin' men, all the rides like your man Nicky Laird, they're all dead."[38]

The couple lived in Rome, Italy, from November 2006 to 2007, and lived in New York City and Queen's Park, London[39] for about 10 years before relocating to Kilburn, London in 2020. They have two children.[40]

Smith describes herself as "unreligious",[41] and was not raised in a religion, although retains a "curiosity" about the role religion plays in others' lives.[42] In an essay exploring humanist and existentialist views of death and dying, Smith characterises her worldview as that of a "sentimental humanist".[43][44]

Selected bibliography[edit]



  • The Wife of Willesden (announced in 2019)[45]

Short fiction[edit]

Title Year First published Reprinted/collected Notes
"The Waiter's Wife" 1999 "The Waiter's Wife". Granta. Vol. 67. 1 December 1999.
"Big Week" 2014 "Big Week". The Paris Review. Summer 2014 (209). 2014.
"The Embassy of Cambodia" 2013 "The Embassy of Cambodia". The New Yorker. 89 (1): 88–98. 11–18 February 2013.
"Escape from New York" 2015 The New Yorker, 1 June 2015
"The Girl with Bangs" 2001
"Hanwell Senior" 2007 The New Yorker, 14 May 2007
"The Lazy River" 2017 The New Yorker, 11 December 2017
"Meet the President!" 2013 The New Yorker, 5 August 2013
"Moonlit Landscape with Bridge" 2014 "Moonlit Landscape with Bridge". The New Yorker. 89 (48): 64–71. 10 February 2014.
"Now More Than Ever" 2018 "Now More Than Ever". The New Yorker. 23 July 2018.
"Permission to Enter" 2012 The New Yorker, 23 July 2012
"Two Men Arrive in a Village" 2016 "Two Men Arrive in a Village". The New Yorker. 6–13 June 2016.
"Weirdo" 2021 Written with Nick Laird, illustrated by Magenta Fox


As editor[edit]

Critical studies and reviews of Smith's work[edit]

  • Tew, Philip (ed.). Reading Zadie Smith: The First Decade and Beyond. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.
  • Tew, Philip. Zadie Smith. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Walters, Tracey (ed.). Zadie Smith: Critical Essays. New York: Peter Lang Publications, 2008.
Feel free
  • Smallwood, Christine (November 2012). "Mental weather : the many voices of Zadie Smith". Reviews. Harper's Magazine. 325 (1950): 86–90.
  • Bentley, Nick (2018). "Trailing Postmodernism : David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Zadie Smith's NW, and the Metamodern". English Studies (99:7): 723–43.

Awards and recognition[edit]

She was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002.[48] In a 2004 BBC poll of cultural researchers, Smith was named among the top twenty most influential people in British culture.[49][50]

In 2003, she was included on Granta's list of 20 best young authors,[51] and was also included in the 2013 list.[52] She joined New York University's Creative Writing Program as a tenured professor on 1 September 2010.[53] Smith has won the Orange Prize for Fiction[54] and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2006[18] and her novel White Teeth was included in Time magazine's list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.


  1. ^ England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1916–2007
  2. ^ a b c d Aida Edemariam (3 September 2005). "Profile: Learning Curve". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  3. ^ "Perhaps Soon Zadie Smith Will Know What She's Doing (and then Just You Watch Out) by Dave". Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  4. ^ "Zadie Smith to Join NYU Creative Writing Faculty", NYU, 25 June 2009.
  5. ^ "Writers: Zadie Smith", Literature – British Council.
  6. ^ Barton, Laura (4 March 2005). "We are family: Award-winning novelist Zadie Smith talks to up-and-coming British rapper Doc Brown, better known to her as Ben, her younger brother". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 December 2010.
  7. ^ Wood, Gaby (25 August 2012). "The Return of Zadie Smith". The Telegraph. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  8. ^ Stephanie Merritt, "She's young, black, British – and the first publishing sensation of the millennium", The Observer, 16 January 2000.
  9. ^ Tew, Philip (2010). Zadie Smith. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-230-51676-2.
  10. ^ Smith, Zadie (7 January 2009). "Personal History: Dead Man Laughing". The New Yorker. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  11. ^ "AP Watt". Archived from the original on 19 May 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  12. ^ "The Mays XIX: Guest Editors". Archived from the original on 30 August 2011. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
  13. ^ Wood, James (24 July 2000). "Human, All Too Inhuman". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  14. ^ a b c Smith, Zadie (13 October 2001). "This is how it feels to me". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  15. ^ 2002–2003 Radcliffe Institute Fellows Archived 23 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Jennifer Hodgson, "Interview with Zadie Smith", The White Review, Issue 15, December 2015.
  17. ^ Ihsan Taylor (17 September 2006). "Paperback Row". New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  18. ^ a b "On Beauty". Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  19. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (22 May 2005). "Race row may spoil Penguin's birthday". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  20. ^ Smith, Zadie (2005), Martha and Hanwell. London: Penguin.
  21. ^ "Guest editor: Zadie Smith". BBC News. 29 December 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  22. ^ Adrian Versteegh, "Zadie Smith Joins NYU Creative Writing Faculty", Poets & Writers, 24 July 2009.
  23. ^ Zeke Turner (20 September 2010). "Zadie Smith Takes Over New Books Column for Harper's Magazine". The New York Observer. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  24. ^ "Zadie Smith". Harper's Magazine. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  25. ^ ZadieSmith page at The New York Review of Books.
  26. ^ "Ten rules for writing fiction (part two)". The Guardian. 20 February 2010. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  27. ^ "Zadie Smith" at Rogers, Coleridge & White.
  28. ^ Wollaston, Sam. "NW review – Zadie Smith's London tale has never felt so relevant". Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  29. ^ Onwuemezi, Natasha, "Amuka-Bird and Fox to star in NW adaptation", The Bookseller, 10 June 2016.
  30. ^ Meltzer, Tom, "NW star Nikki Amuka-Bird: 'Zadie is purposefully challenging the viewer'", The Guardian, 14 November 2016.
  31. ^ Lobb, Adrian, "NW Star Nikki Amuka-Bird Interview: 'Bursting through the glass ceiling can cause damage'", The Big Issue, 21 November 2016.
  32. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (26 August 2015). "Robert Pattinson to star in Claire Denis sci-fi". Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  33. ^ Newman, Nick (8 February 2016). "Claire Denis' Robert Pattinson-Led 'High Life' Will Feature Unwanted Insemination and Black Holes". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  34. ^ Pearce, Katie (4 November 2015). "Author Zadie Smith shares bits of her unpublished fourth novel, 'Swing, Time'". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  35. ^ Busby, Margaret (9 March 2019). "From Ayòbámi Adébáyò to Zadie Smith: meet the New Daughters of Africa". The Guardian.
  36. ^ Hayden, Sally (16 March 2019). "New Daughters of Africa review: vast and nuanced collection". Irish Times.
  37. ^ Popova, Maria (13 August 2020). "Creativity in the Time of COVID: Zadie Smith on Writing, Love, and What Echoes Through the Hallway of Time Suddenly Emptied of Habit". Brainpickings. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  38. ^ Smith, Zadie (2000). White Teeth. London: Vintage.
  39. ^ Zach Baron (15 July 2009). "Irish Novelist Nick Laird Goes Utterly Pug". Village Voice. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012.
  40. ^ Richard Godwin (28 June 2013). "The world according to Zadie Smith". Evening Standard.
  41. ^ Bollen, Christopher (12 August 2012). "Interview with Zadie Smith". Interview Magazine. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  42. ^ Dalley, Jan (11 November 2016). "Lunch with the FT: novelist Zadie Smith". Financial Times. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  43. ^ Hoby, Hermione (20 February 2018). "Zadie Smith's Book of Essays Explores What It Means to Be Human". The New Republic. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  44. ^ Smith, Zadie (2018), "Man versus Corpse", Feel Free: Essays, London: Penguin UK
  45. ^ Snow, Georgia (11 November 2019). "Zadie Smith to write new play for Kiln Theatre as part of Brent London Borough of Culture". The Stage. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  46. ^ Short stories unless otherwise noted.
  47. ^ Online version is titled "Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's imaginary portraits".
  48. ^ "Zadie Smith". The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  49. ^ "iPod designer leads culture list". BBC. 17 November 2016.
  50. ^ "iPod's low-profile creator tops cultural chart". The Independent. 17 November 2016.
  51. ^ "Best of Young British Novelists 2003". Granta, 81.
  52. ^ "Zadie Smith". Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  53. ^ "Zadie Smith Joins Faculty". New York University. 1 September 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  54. ^ "Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction". 2006. Archived from the original on 3 March 2015. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  55. ^ "The Man Booker Prize 2017 | The Man Booker Prizes". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  56. ^ ""Welt"-Literaturpreis 2016 für Zadie Smith". Die Welt (in German). 7 October 2016. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
  57. ^ "Zadie Smith Wins CCNY's Langston Hughes Medal", CUNY, 31 August 2017.
  58. ^ "Zadie Smith of New York University to Receive the Langston Hughes Medal", The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 4 September 2017.
  59. ^ "LHF 2017 Celebrates Zadie Smith", The City College of New York.
  60. ^ Tuttle, Kate (14 March 2019). "National Book Critics Circle Announces Winners for 2018 Awards". National Book Critics Circle. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  61. ^ "Here Are this Year's Finalists for The Story Prize". LitHub. 9 January 2019. Retrieved 9 January 2019.

External links[edit]