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Seattle Arts & Lectures: A Conversation with Zadie Smith

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Benaroya Hall

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Smith’s acclaimed “White Teeth” (2000) is a vibrant portrait of contemporary multicultural London, told through the stories of three ethnically diverse families. The book won a number of awards and prizes, including the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and two BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Awards. It was also shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Orange Prize for Fiction, and the Author’s Club First Novel Award. “White Teeth” has been translated into over twenty languages.

Smith’s second novel, “The Autograph Man” (2002)—a story of loss, obsession, and the nature of celebrity—won the 2003 Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize for Fiction. Her next work, “On Beauty” (2005), won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction, and tells the story of an interracial family living in the university town of Wellington, Massachusetts and their misadventures in the culture wars on both sides of the Atlantic.

“NW” (2012), set in northwest London, follows four locals—Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan—as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. The book was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction and was named one of the New York Times‘s ‘10 Best Books of 2012.’

Her most recent novel is “Swing Time” (2016), which follows two brown girls in their dream of becoming dancers. “Swing Time” was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In 2017, Smith was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters and was the recipient of the 2017 City College of New York’s Langston Hughes Medal.

Smith is also an acclaimed essayist. She contributes regularly to The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books on a range of subjects, and has additionally published the collection “Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays” (2009), and a new book of essays, “Feel Free” (2018). Gathering in one place for the first time previously unpublished work, as well as already classic essays such as, “Joy,” and, “Find Your Beach,” “Feel Free” offers a survey of important recent events in culture and politics, as well as Smith’s own life.

Smith was born in North London in 1975 to an English father and a Jamaican mother. She read English at Cambridge before graduating in 1997. She is currently a tenured professor of Creative Writing at New York University.

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Literary Arts