As people accuse fiction of presumption, vanity, appropriation, and putting words in peoples’ mouths, one of our most brilliant writers shows us what fiction does best, which is compassionately imagining ourselves as other people, so we can understand who they, and human beings, truly are.
Author Zadie Smith dives deep into the photography of Deana Lawson.
“Their grandmother is as black as the ace of spades, as the British used to say; their mother is what the French still call café au lait. They themselves are sort of yellowy. When exactly does black suffering cease to be their concern?”
Novelist Zadie Smith reflects on the connection between writing and dancing, drawing on iconic performers like Fred Astaire, Michael Jackson, and Beyoncé.
“When everyone’s building a fence, isn’t it a true fool who lives out in the open?” Zadie Smith reflects on post-Brexit Britain.
“It’s not all pathos, pathos, pathos. One sketch ponders the eternal question ‘What if names were farts?'” Zadie Smith spends time with Comedy Central stars Key & Peele.
Zadie Smith on loving, hating and living in Manhattan—an island where the pursuit of happiness has become a duty
Zadie Smith on her father, mourning, and the gardens of Italy:
“There is a sentimental season, early on in the process of mourning, in which you believe that everything you happen to be doing or seeing or eating, the departed person would also have loved to do or see or eat, were he or she still here on earth. Harvey would have loved this fried ball of rice. He would have loved the Pantheon. He would have loved that Rossetti of a girl with her thick black brows.
“In the first season of mourning there is a tendency to overstate. But still I feel certain that this was the garden that would have made us both happy.”
[Fiction] A maid from Ivory Coast works in northwest London:
“The only good thing that happened in Carib Beach was this: once a month, on a Sunday, the congregation of a local church poured out of a coach at the front gates, lined up fully dressed in the courtyard, and then walked into the pool for a mass baptism. The tourists were never warned, and Fatou never understood why the congregants were allowed to do it. But she loved to watch their white shirts bloat and spread across the surface of the water, and to hear the weeping and singing. At the time—though she was not then a member of that church, or of any church except the one in her heart—she had felt that this baptism was for her, too, and that it kept her safe, and that this was somehow the reason she did not become one of the ‘girls’ at the Carib Beach Resort. For almost two years—between her father’s efforts and the grace of an unseen and unacknowledged God—she did her work, and swam Sunday mornings at the crack of dawn, and got along all right. But the Devil was waiting.”
[Not singe-page] The rap superstar discusses his career and how he’s remained relevant:
“In the years since his masterpiece ‘Reasonable Doubt,’ the rapper has often been accused of running on empty, too distant now from what once made him real. In ‘Decoded,’ he answers existentially: ‘How distant is the story of your own life ever going to be?’ In the lyrics, practically:
“Life stories told through rap/Niggas actin’ like I sold you crack/Like I told you sell drugs, no, Hov’ did that/So hopefully you won’t have to go through that. But can’t a rapper insist, like other artists, on a fictional reality, in which he is somehow still on the corner, despite occupying the penthouse suite? Out hustlin’, same clothes for days/I’ll never change, I’m too stuck in my ways. Can’t he still rep his block? For Jay-Z, pride in the block has been essential and he recognized rap’s role in taking ‘that embarrassment off of you. The first time people were saying: I come from here — and it’s O.K.’ He quotes Mobb Deep: ‘No matter how much money I get, I’m staying in the projects!’ But here, too, he sees change: ‘Before, if you didn’t have that authenticity, your career could be over. Vanilla Ice said he got stabbed or something, they found out he was lying, he was finished.’ I suggested to him that many readers of this newspaper would find it bizarre that the reputation of the rapper Rick Ross was damaged when it was revealed a few years ago that he was, at one time, a prison guard. ‘But again,’ Jay says, ‘I think hip-hop has moved away from that place of everything has to be authentic. Kids are growing up very differently now.'”