Zadie Smith was last in Australia almost 20 years ago to chat to Alain de Botton for the launch of her first novel, White Teeth. A lot has happened for the English novelist since then. She’s written many more books (novels On Beauty, N-W, Swing Time); given talks around the world; and published essays on philosophy, literature, art and culture in her own collections and in publications such as the New Yorker. She’s also received plenty of accolades, such as the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism in 2019 for her essay collection Feel Free.“As far as general culture goes, I guess I think of myself as a curious witness but not usually an active participant,” Smith tells Broadsheet via email.
The world has changed since her last visit, too. Smith came to prominence as a young, black woman writer when the literary world – and discourse – was dominated by older white men. That’s shifted in recent years, thanks in part to the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements.
Smith is in Australia this month for events in Sydney and Melbourne. On November 10 she’ll be in conversation with South African writer Sisonke Msimang (author of Always Another Country: A memoir of exile and home) at the Sydney Opera House talking “race, class, gender, politics and all the important things in life”, Smith says. “No doubt all these issues will appear, as life and writing are intimately concerned with all these issues.”
Smith will also discuss Grand Union, her “book of weird little short stories” that came out in October – her first collection of short fiction. Its stories flick between genres, styles, perspectives and points of view, and the New York Times said it “contains some of Smith’s most vibrant, original fiction, the kind of writing she’ll surely be known for.”
Smith was 24 when she published White Teeth, a coming-of-age tale set in Willesden, in north-west London. It has since been translated into more than 20 languages and adapted for television and the stage. Smith was named twice by Granta magazine as one of the 20 Best of Young British Novelists, and her novel On Beauty was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction (now the Women’s Prize for Fiction).
An evening with Zadie Smith is on at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday November 10 at 8pm. Tickets here