On Monday, Oct. 13, award-winning British novelist Zadie Smith gave a reading and commentary of her work as part of the Stieren Arts Enrichment Series.
“I have a couple of friends who have read her work and list her as one of their favorite authors, but I kind of went in blind,” said Rachel Maceross, a senior. “And I was really happy that I did, because just going in and listening to her read her work, without any expectations for what it should be, made it so beautiful.”
After a brief introduction from Andrew Porter, head of the creative writing program, Smith began reading directly from her work. Smith is the author of five novels but chose to read a selection of her essays that featured herself as the speaker.
“I was touched when she discussed her hypothetical granddaughter in a way that made her seem like a living person,” said Ryan Diller, a sophomore. “By imagining herself in dialogue with this yet-to-be-conceived girl, Smith made the inevitable damages of global warming””which, like her hypothetical granddaughter, have yet to be fulfilled””even more real.”
Smith read three of her non-fiction essays, including “Elegy for a Country’s Seasons,” “Find Your Beach” and “Joy.”
“What these essays have in common is that they are about limits, which are always a hard thing to talk about in America, where we’re so encouraged to think of ourselves as limitless beings in a limitless country in a limitless world,” Smith said.
Each essay featured moments and reflections from Smith’s own experiences, set in familiar settings and around familiar objects or ideas.
“I loved hearing her perspective on the parts of living in New York that were different from her home in England,” said Erin Cusenbary, a senior. “It was funny, but also eye-opening, to hear an outsider’s perspective on things that we see and absorb without questioning them, like the Corona advertisement that was the focus of one of her pieces.”
With each essay, Smith focused on common experiences from everyday life, avoiding the extreme situations that often pop up for fictional characters in novels or short stories.
“While she was reading her work, there were words and experiences and feelings that I could resonate with,” Maceross said. “It was neat to hear someone put words to things that you are feeling and help you to better express yourself.”
After the reading, Smith was available for questions and book signings. A selection of her published work was available for sale outside of the Ruth Taylor Recital Hall.
“I took two things home from this lecture: a desire to read her works and a new copy of “White Teeth” from her merchandise table,” Diller said.
Smith is currently working on a book of essays, “Feel Free,” which will be published next year.