Gotta admit, married with children as I am, I’ve got a nerd crush on lit phenom Zadie Smith. You know her, you love her too; background biography unnecessary. As a recovering B-boy, I’ve just got this inbred love of hybrid, mishmash, “you’ve got your chocolate in my peanut butter” stuff. And Zadie, the way she brings pen to pad with equal love of Nabokov, David Foster Wallace, Lauryn Hill and the Beastie Boys just really works for me. Plus she’s young(ish), easy on the eyes in an emo kinda way, and hi-brow gatekeepers like The New Yorker and Granta ride her dick. Zadie’s an expatriate now by the way; she lives in Rome these days with her husband, the Irish poet Nick Laird.
Her third novel, last year’s On Beauty, was just released in France as De La Beautéand so she sat for an interview with journalist Nelly Kaprièlian in Les Inrockuptiblesmagazine this month. I was going to translate the whole Q&A into English and post it (illegal probably), but instead I’ll tell the story of how Zadie almost wrote for Bronx Biannual Issue 2.
Turns out that as a student at Cambridge (where she wrote most of the superacclaimed White Teeth) Zadie turned out a few short stories for The Mays, a student lit anthology edited at the time by… poet Nick Laird. And so none of these stories have been published again since: “Mirrored Box,” “The Newspaper Man,” “Mrs. Begum’s Son and the Private Tutor,” and “Picnic, Lightning.” I’ve got them all, bought them last year directly from The Mays, with a promise that I could reprint any story I wanted as long as I gave The Mays attribution. I had “The Newspaper Man” all laid out and ready to roll last issue when it came to light that, actually, the rights to those stories had reverted back to Zadie, who more than likely wouldn’t want them read now that she’s large. Too bad, because I really liked “The Newspaper Man,” and if she wrote White Teeth while still in college, then these short stories (having read them all, admittedly mainly “The Newspaper Man”) are arguably just as top-flight.
She’s got a new book coming out for my birthday: December 18, The Book of Other People drops, full of around 25 writers of her choice (including Dave Eggers and Jonathan Safran Foer) creating fictional characters. And actually, in Europe the book comes out next week.