Why I Love: Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith
Category: Writing

A picture is worth a thousand words. It’s a cliché for a reason. Zadie Smith, however, proves the exact opposite to be true. No picture, photograph, or etching can capture the world as vividly as she does with nothing more than the English language.

My shameful secret is not my love of her genius, but rather that I am a relatively recent convert to the world according to Zadie Smith. My tastes in literature have always tended toward the plot-driven, genre-specific works that are about as far from White Teeth and On Beauty as you can get. In my naiveté, I didn’t see how literary fiction could impact my own work. How wrong I was.

So what sparked my change of heart? One of the first events I ever attended at the Edinburgh International Book Festival was Smith’s reading of NW. As expected, she was interesting and witty in her banter with the chair. But in her reading of the work itself, Zadie Smith showed just how powerful and beautiful her words are. In a few short minutes, she created far richer characters and worlds than I have found in entire novels.

NW cover

What Zadie did in her reading and does in her writing is create snapshots of moments in time. She is a historian, creating a written record of London through fiction. NW  specifically provides a lens through which we can see her version of North West London. After finishing the novel, I feel as though I know that neighbourhood better than most places in which I’ve lived. She doesn’t draw you in with complex plot or gimmicks, but rather the beauty of being able to observe sects of humanity with insanely rich detail. With every “I’ve got to chip” and “innit” she pushes us deeper into a world she has clearly spent a lot of time cultivating. No one can compare to the way in which she describes the most mundane events like riding the tube or staring at an apple tree.  It is just as much psychogeography as it is an in depth character study, a rare combination.

As an aspiring writer who happens to be a woman, strong female role models are important yet increasingly hard to find. Female writers, try as they may to fight it, tend to be pigeon holed into certain genres. Zadie Smith breaks the mold by exploring the world using language, painting a picture with her words. She also defends the rights of women with the same beauty and passion found in her prose. Having recently publicly come out against an article claiming children limit the careers of female writers, I find my admiration extending beyond her writing. She wants to see women succeed, not only in publishing but in the world as a whole. Zadie Smith, whether she means to be or not, is a role model for a generation of aspiring writers.

Each word a picture; each picture a work of art. That is why I love Zadie Smith.

Melissa Hugel

Melissa Hugel is a writer based in Edinburgh. Her story 'Finally' won the April round of the 50 Word Fiction Competition. Follow Melissa on twitter @mellyhugs