Zadie Adeline Smith FRSL
(born Sadie Adeline Smith; 25 October 1975)
is an English novelist, essayist, and short-story writer. Her debut novel
, ''White 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.
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, who was 30 years his wife's senior.
At the age of 14, she changed her name from Sadie to Zadie.
Smith's mother grew up in Jamaica and emigrated to England in 1969.
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,
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. She graduated with upper second-class honours.
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.
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. Smith returned to guest-edit the anthology in 2001.
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.
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
formation has become the new character" and human feeling is absent from contemporary fiction. 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".
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
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".
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
. 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.
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
, and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction
and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
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. 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. In December 2008 she guest-edited the BBC Radio 4
After teaching fiction at Columbia University School of the Arts
, Smith joined New York University
as a tenured professor of fiction in 2010.
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
. ''NW'' was made into a BBC television film directed by Saul Dibb
and adapted by Rachel Bennette
. Starring Nikki Amuka-Bird
and Phoebe Fox
, it was broadcast on BBC Two
on 14 November 2016.
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
. Smith later said that her involvement had been overstated and that she had simply helped to polish the English dialogue for the film.
Smith's fifth novel, ''Swing Time
'', was published in November 2016. It drew inspiration from Smith's childhood love of tap dancing. It was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
Between March and October 2011, Smith was the monthly New Books reviewer for ''Harper's Magazine
''. She is also a frequent contributor to ''The New York Review of Books
''. 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."
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.
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."
The couple lived in Rome
, Italy, from November 2006 to 2007, and lived in New York City
and Queen's Park, London
for about 10 years before relocating to Kilburn, London
in 2020. They have two children, Katherine (Kit) and Harvey (Hal).
Smith describes herself as "unreligious", and was not raised in a religion, although retains a "curiosity" about the role religion plays in others' lives. In an essay exploring humanist
views of death and dying, Smith characterises her worldview
as that of a "sentimental humanist
* ''White Teeth
* ''The Autograph Man
* ''On Beauty
* ''Swing Time
*''The Wife of Willesden'' (announced in 2019)
*''"Martha and Hanwell"'' (2005)
* ''Grand Union: Stories
* ''Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays'' (2009)
* ''Stop What You're Doing and Read This!'' (2011) (with Carmen Callil
, Mark Haddon
, Michael Rosen
and Jeanette Winterson
* "Some Notes on Attunement: A voyage around Joni Mitchell
", ''The New Yorker'', 17 December 2012, and later featured in ''The Best American Essays
"On optimism and despair"
''The New York Review of Books'' (22 December 2016); speech given on accepting the Welt-Literaturpreis
* ''Fences: A Brexit Diary'' (2016)
* ''Feel Free: Essays
* ''Piece of Flesh'' (2001)
* ''The Burned Children of America'' (2003) (with Dave Eggers
* ''The Book of Other People
Critical studies and reviews of Smith's work
* 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.
Awards and recognition
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
In 2003, she was included on ''Granta
's'' list of 20 best young authors, and was also included in the 2013 list. She joined New York University
's Creative Writing Program as a tenured professor on 1 September 2010. Smith has won the Orange Prize for Fiction
and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
and her novel ''White Teeth
'' was included in ''Time
'' magazine's list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005
* ''White Teeth'': won the Whitbread First Novel Award
, the Guardian First Book Award
, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize
, and the Commonwealth Writers’ First Book Award
. Included on ''Time'' magazine's 100 best English-language novels published from 1923 to 2005
* ''The Autograph Man'': won the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize
* ''On Beauty'': won the Commonwealth Writers’ Best Book Award
(Eurasia Section), and the Orange Prize for Fiction; shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
* ''NW'': shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize
and the Women's Prize for Fiction
* ''Swing Time'': longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
* ''Granta''′s Best of Young British Novelists
, 2003 and 2013
* 2016: ''Welt''-Literaturpreis
* 2017: Langston Hughes Medal
awarded on 16 November at the Langston Hughes Festival at The City College of New York
* 2019: Infinity Award
, Critical Writing and Research, International Center of Photography
* 2018: National Book Critics Circle Award
for Criticism for ''Feel Free''
* 2020: ''Grand Union'' named a finalist for The Story Prize
* Stewart, Alison. Interview with Zadie Smith about her work "Grand Union" interview and discussion broadcast on WNYC Public Radio show "All Of It" with Alison Stewart on October 26th 2020 (recorded in 2019) https://www.wnyc.org/story/zadie-smiths-grand-union
* Curry, Ginette''Toubab La!: Literary Representations of Mixed-race Characters in the African Diaspora''
Newcastle, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007, .
* Joy Press"Only Connect"
an interview with Zadie Smith in the ''Village Voice
'', 13 September 2005.
* Stephanie Merritt"She's young, black, British – and the first publishing sensation of the millennium"
''The Observer'', 16 January 2000.
* Wyatt Mason"White Knees"
an essay on Smith's body of work, ''Harper's Magazine
'', October 2005.
Smith article archive
from ''The New York Review of Books
"Mind the Gap"
in ''Guernica Magazine'', January 2012.
* Broadcaster Philippa Thoma
London Fictions, 2012.
* Alison Flood"Zadie Smith criticises author who says more than one child limits career"
''The Guardian'', 13 June 2013
Zadie Smith on ''Desert Island Discs''
BBC Radio 4, 22 September 2013.
* Brian Tanguay"A Conversation with Zadie Smith"
''Santa Barbara Independent'', 21 November 2017.
Category:20th-century English women writers
Category:20th-century English novelists
Category:21st-century English women writers
Category:21st-century English novelists
Category:Alumni of King's College, Cambridge
Category:Black British writers
Category:British Book Award winners
Category:British women essayists
Category:English people of Jamaican descent
Category:English women novelists
Category:Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature
Category:Harper's Magazine people
Category:James Tait Black Memorial Prize recipients
Category:New York University faculty
Category:The New Yorker people
Category:People from Willesden
Category:English short story writers
Category:British women short story writers
Category:21st-century British short story writers