Why writer Zadie Smith is the best kind of literary icon
By Carlene Thomas Bailey

Ahead of the release of her book Swing Time, we celebrate the writer who is a self-confessed book nerd & constantly pushes the conversation around equality

Sep 29, 2016


Most people will tell you that the moment when they became obsessed with the British writer Zadie Smith was with the release of her first book White Teeth. At the time she was heralded as an icon of multicultural Britain and a rising young literary star.

But there are other fans, fans like me who discovered her later with her book NW, and her broadcast stint on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, and this amazing live stream of the conversation between her and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture located in Harlem. Her interview on Radio 4 was the first time I’d heard the rapper Notorious BIG be played on that channel, and the first time I heard anyone celebrating the fact that they were a book nerd and proud. Zadie Smith is many things to many people, an acclaimed author, an acclaimed black female writer, a mother and a lecturer (she currently teaches at NYU) . She crashed onto our consciousness in 2000, when she published her first novel called White Teeth, which looked at life in London, an analysis of the different life experiences between cultures. Zadie’s following books On Beauty and NW also look at multicultural stories in London, people in different walks of life, the choices they make, from relationships to marriage; and death. This autumn she is back with her latest book Swing Time.

Here we chart three reasons we love this icon.

1) She is a self-confessed nerd

We are in a time where it can seem that reading is an overly taxing exercise, that if you can’t condense it into 140 characters or a quick Snapchat video, that it’s too much hassle to consume it. We want everything now, we want it fast and quick. Zadie goes against this idea, she champions reading and working at your writing skills. She even wore a t-shirt that said Black Nerd throughout her whole interview on Radio 4, and in a recent interview with the Gentlewoman she revealed that she’s consumed with everything from Ta-Nehisi Coates book to work by Franz Kafka.

2) She talks openly about race.

It’s a very political time, and particularly in America the dialogue around this topic is at fever pitch; what I love is that Zadie doesn’t shy away from this, she openly talks about it. In the Radio 4 interview, she talks about how she is held up as the beacon of multicultural Britain, the success story, but she argues those odds; it’s not enough that one black woman made it from a comprehensive inner city school system. She’s spoken about race with everyone from Jay Z for the NY Times to fashion magazine The Gentlewoman “If I go to my publisher’s, I’m still the only black person” she told the journalist. I love that she’s not afraid to create a dialogue around this, and question the system that celebrates her.

3) She’s not just a novelist, she’s a savvy social commentator

She’s campaigned against the closure of her local Willesden Green library Centre and composed a thinkpiece on Brexit. She sits and considers the issues and makes a point of standing up for what she thinks is important, that’s inspiring especially right now!

Want more? Here’s why editor Lynn Yaeger is the best type of fashion muse

DISCOVER ICONS: Subscribers can check out our Icon series, live on WGSN now.

Why writer Zadie Smith is the best kind of literary icon
1 comment

Please enter a valid name
Please enter a valid name
Please enter a valid email address
Please enter a valid email address
Please enter a valid website
Please enter a valid website
Add a comment...
Please enter a valid comment

Inspiration | Michele Lamy
Oct 06th, 2016

[…] more inspiring women, check out our WGSN Icon series blogs here and […]

Related stories

5 photos
Colour inspiration: The Tumblr account that is a visual feast

2 photos
Fashion Illustration 101: A guide to making it in the industry

5 photos
Free art events to check out during Frieze weekend

4 min
Solange Knowles: How her visual album puts the spotlight on race, fashion and gender

9 photos
Barcelona's SWAB Contemporary Art Fair will kickstart your love affair with art