Zadie Smith

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Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith NBCC 2011 Shankbone.jpg
Smith announcing the 2010 National Book Critics Circle award finalists in fiction.
Born Sadie Smith
(1975-10-25) 25 October 1975 (age 41)
Brent, London, England
Occupation Novelist, professor of creative writing
Nationality British
Alma mater King's College, Cambridge
Period 2000–present
Literary movement Realism, postmodernism, hysterical realism, New Sincerity
Spouse Nick Laird (2004–present)
Children 2

Zadie Smith FRSL (born on 25 October 1975)[1] is an English novelist, essayist, and short story writer. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002. In a 2004 BBC poll of cultural researchers, Smith was named among the top twenty most influential people in British culture.[2][3]

As of 2016, she has published five novels, all of which have received substantial critical praise. In 2003, she was included on Granta's list of 20 best young authors,[4] and was also included in the 2013 list.[5] She joined New York University's Creative Writing Program as a tenured professor on 1 September 2010.[6] Smith has won the Orange Prize for Fiction[7] and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2006[8] and her novel White Teeth was included in Time magazine's list of 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

Early life[edit]

Zadie Smith was born as Sadie Smith in the north-west London borough of Brent to a Jamaican mother, Yvonne Bailey, and an English father, Harvey Smith.[9] Her mother had grown up in Jamaica and migrated to England in 1969.[1] Their marriage was her father's second. Zadie has a half-sister, a half-brother, and two younger brothers, one of whom is the rapper and stand-up comedian Doc Brown and the other is rapper Luc Skyz. As a child she was fond of tap dancing;[1] as a teenager she considered a career as an actress in musical theatre; and as a university student she earned money as a jazz singer and wanted to become a journalist.

Her parents divorced when she was a teenager. When she was 14, she changed her name to "Zadie".[10] 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.[11]

Smith seems to have been rejected for a place in the Cambridge Footlights by the popular British comedy double act Mitchell and Webb, while all three were studying at Cambridge University in the 1990s.[12]

At Cambridge she published a number of short stories in a collection of new student writing called The Mays Anthology. These 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.[13] Smith returned to guest-edit the anthology in 2001.[14]


White Teeth was introduced to the publishing world in 1997, before it was completed. On the basis of a partial manuscript an auction among different publishers for the rights started, with Hamish Hamilton being successful. Smith completed White Teeth during her final year at Cambridge. Published in 2000, the novel became a best-seller immediately. It was praised internationally and won a number of awards. The novel was adapted for television in 2002 by Channel 4.[1] Smith also served as writer-in-residence at the ICA in London and subsequently published, as editor, an anthology of sex writing, Piece of Flesh (ICA, 1999), as the culmination of this role.

In interviews she reported that the hype surrounding her first novel had caused her to suffer a short spell of writer's block. Nevertheless, her second novel, The Autograph Man, was published in 2002 and was a commercial success, although the critical response was not as positive as it had been to White Teeth.

After the publication of The Autograph Man, Smith visited the United States as a 2002–03 Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellow at Harvard University.[15] She started work on a still unreleased book of essays, The Morality of the Novel, aka Fail Better, in which she considers a selection of 20th-century writers through the lens of moral philosophy. Some portions of this book presumably are included in the essay collection Changing My Mind, published in November 2009.[16]

The second novel was followed by another, On Beauty (published in September 2005), which is set largely in and around Greater Boston and which attracted more acclaim. This third novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize,[17] and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.[8]

Later in the same year, Smith published Martha and Hanwell, a book combining two short stories about two troubled characters, originally published in Granta and The New Yorker. Penguin Books published Martha and Hanwell with a new introduction by Smith as part of their pocket series to celebrate their 70th birthday.[18] 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.[19] In December 2008 she guest-edited the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.[20]

After teaching fiction at Columbia University School of the Arts, she joined New York University as a tenured professor of fiction as of 1 September 2010. 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."[21] Beginning with the March 2011 issue, extending until October 2011, Smith was the monthly New Books reviewer for Harper's Magazine.[22][23] 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 Ondaatje Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction.[24]

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.[25] Smith later claimed that her involvement had been overstated and that she had simply helped to polish the English dialogue for the film.[26]

In the autumn of 2015 Smith further announced that her fifth novel, entitled Swing Time, would be published in the fall of 2016.[27]

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". The couple lived in Monti, Rome, Italy, from November 2006 to 2007, and are now based between New York City and Queen's Park, London.[28] They have two children, Katherine (Kit) and Harvey.[29]





As editor[edit]

Critical studies and reviews[edit]

  • Smallwood, Christine (November 2012). "Mental weather: the many voices of Zadie Smith". Reviews. Harper's Magazine. 325 (1950): 86–90.  Review of NW.

Awards and recognition[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Aida Edemariam (3 September 2005). "Profile: Learning Curve". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2011. 
  2. ^ "iPod designer leads culture list". BBC. 17 November 2016. 
  3. ^ "iPod's low-profile creator tops cultural chart". The Independent. 17 November 2016. 
  4. ^ "Best of Young British Novelists 2003". Granta, 81. 
  5. ^ "Zadie Smith". Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  6. ^ "Zadie Smith Joins Faculty". New York University. 1 September 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2011. 
  7. ^ "Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction - 2006". Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  8. ^ a b "On Beauty". Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  9. ^ "Writers: Zadie Smith", Literature - British Council.
  10. ^ Wood, Gaby (25 August 2012). "The Return of Zadie Smith". The Telegraph. Retrieved 23 July 2013. 
  11. ^ Stephanie Merritt, "She's young, black, British – and the first publishing sensation of the millennium", The Observer, 16 January 2000.
  12. ^ Smith, Zadie (7 January 2009). "Personal History: Dead Man Laughing". The New Yorker. Retrieved 9 March 2011. 
  13. ^ "AP Watt". Retrieved 7 March 2011. 
  14. ^ "The Mays XIX: Guest Editors". Retrieved 7 June 2011. 
  15. ^ 2002–2003 Radcliffe Institute Fellows
  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. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (22 May 2005). "Race row may spoil Penguin's birthday". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  19. ^ Smith, Zadie (2005), Martha and Hanwell. London: Penguin.
  20. ^ "Guest editor: Zadie Smith". BBC News. 29 December 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2011. 
  21. ^ "Ten rules for writing fiction (part two)". The Guardian. 20 February 2010. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  22. ^ Zeke Turner (20 September 2010). "Zadie Smith Takes Over New Books Column for Harper's Magazine". The New York Observer. Retrieved 9 March 2011. 
  23. ^ "Zadie Smith". Harper's Magazine. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  24. ^ "Zadie Smith" at Rogers, Coleridge & White.
  25. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (26 August 2015). "Robert Pattinson to star in Claire Denis sci-fi". Retrieved 26 August 2015. 
  26. ^ Newman, Nick (8 February 2016). "Claire Denis' Robert Pattinson-Led 'High Life' Will Feature Unwanted Insemination and Black Holes". Retrieved 9 February 2016. 
  27. ^ Pearce, Katie (4 November 2015). "Author Zadie Smith shares bits of her unpublished fourth novel, 'Swing, Time'". Retrieved 9 February 2016. 
  28. ^ Zach Baron (15 July 2009). "Irish Novelist Nick Laird Goes Utterly Pug". Village Voice. Retrieved 9 March 2011. 
  29. ^ Richard Godwin (28 June 2013). "The world according to Zadie Smith". Evening Standard. 
  30. ^ Smith, Zadie (6 June 2016). "Two Men Arrive in a Village" (June 6 & 13, 2016). Condé Nast. Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  31. ^ "„Welt"-Literaturpreis 2016 für Zadie Smith". Die Welt (in German). 7 October 2016. Retrieved October 10, 2016. 


  • 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.

External links[edit]