Zadie Smith: ‘I have a very messy and chaotic mind’

Zadie Smith has been a vital literary voice since her first novel, White Teeth, became an instant bestseller. Here she answers questions from famous fans, including Teju Cole, Philip Pullman and Sharmaine Lovegrove.

From The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_2943 Jan. 25 18.11Zadie Smith’s second collection of essays, Feel Free, could be described as a tour through her enthusiasms punctuated with diversions. She writes with equal fervour about Jay-Z’s rapping, which “pours right into your ear like water from a tap”, as about Edward St Aubyn’s “rich, acerbic comedy”. Her early dislike of Joni Mitchell is used as a segue into a discussion of philistinism and taste. A booklet on early Italian masterpieces sparks an examination of the concept of corpses and the unthinkability of death.

Although the subjects may seem wide-ranging, she says, “they always seem very narrow to me. I’m very familiar with what I’m enthusiastic about, and it’s hard to see variety in your own tastes.” The only thing they all have in common is how passionately she feels about them. “I like to know I love something before I pitch it. For me, writing 3,000 words about something you don’t really like is a kind of torture.”

Written between 2008 and 2017, the 33 essays, columns and reviews were, in a way, a respite from her fiction. “Usually an essay comes when I’m playing hookey from novel writing,” she says. “Writing a novel is like doing a long-distance race, and writing an essay in the middle of one is like turning left off the route, finding a cafe and paying close attention to something different. It’s a form of relief.” They are also fundamentally different writing practices. “Fiction is messier. Essay is, for me, an attempt at a kind of clarity. I have a very messy and chaotic mind, but when I’m writing an essay I find I can exert a bit more control over it.”

More here.