But this is the history of race in America. Families can become black, then white, then black again within a few generations.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-06-27 00:09Z by Steven

We have been warned not to get under one another’s skin, to keep our distance. But Jordan Peele’s horror-fantasy—in which we are inside one another’s skin and intimately involved in one another’s suffering—is neither a horror nor a fantasy. It is a fact of our experience. The real fantasy is that we can get out of one another’s way, make a clean cut between black and white, a final cathartic separation between us and them. For the many of us in loving, mixed families, this is the true impossibility. There are people online who seem astounded that Get Out was written and directed by a man with a white wife and a white mother, a man who may soon have—depending on how the unpredictable phenotype lottery goes—a white-appearing child. But this is the history of race in America. Families can become black, then white, then black again within a few generations. And even when Americans are not genetically mixed, they live in a mixed society at the national level if no other. There is no getting out of our intertwined history.

Zadie Smith, “Getting In and Out,” Harper’s Magazine, July 2017. https://harpers.org/archive/2017/07/getting-in-and-out/.

Tags: , ,

Getting In and Out

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, United States on 2017-06-26 19:12Z by Steven

Getting In and Out

Harper’s Magazine
July 2017

Zadie Smith

Who owns black pain?

Discussed in this essay:

Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele. Blumhouse Productions, QC Entertainment, and Monkeypaw Productions, 2017. 104 minutes.

Open Casket, by Dana Schutz. 2017 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. March 17–June 11, 2017.

You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
Langston Hughes

Early on, as the opening credits roll, a woodland scene. We’re upstate, viewing the forest from a passing car. Trees upon trees, lovely, dark and deep. There are no people to be seen in this wood—but you get the feeling that somebody’s in there somewhere. Now we switch to a different world. Still photographs, taken in the shadow of public housing: the basketball court, the abandoned lot, the street corner. Here black folk hang out on sun-warmed concrete, laughing, crying, living, surviving. The shots of the woods and those of the city both have their natural audience, people for whom such images are familiar and benign. There are those who think of Fros­tian woods as the pastoral, as America the Beautiful, and others who see summer in the city as, likewise, beautiful and American. One of the marvelous tricks of Jordan Peele’s debut feature, Get Out, is to reverse these constituencies, revealing two separate planets of American fear—separate but not equal. One side can claim a long, distinguished cinematic history: Why should I fear the black man in the city? The second, though not entirely unknown (Deliverance, The Wicker Man), is certainly more obscure: Why should I fear the white man in the woods?…

…We have been warned not to get under one another’s skin, to keep our distance. But Jordan Peele’s horror-fantasy—in which we are inside one another’s skin and intimately involved in one another’s suffering—is neither a horror nor a fantasy. It is a fact of our experience. The real fantasy is that we can get out of one another’s way, make a clean cut between black and white, a final cathartic separation between us and them. For the many of us in loving, mixed families, this is the true impossibility. There are people online who seem astounded that Get Out was written and directed by a man with a white wife and a white mother, a man who may soon have—depending on how the unpredictable phenotype lottery goes—a white-appearing child. But this is the history of race in America. Families can become black, then white, then black again within a few generations. And even when Americans are not genetically mixed, they live in a mixed society at the national level if no other. There is no getting out of our intertwined history…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , ,

Zadie Smith and Multiculturalism after Brexit

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United Kingdom on 2017-04-11 20:08Z by Steven

Zadie Smith and Multiculturalism after Brexit

Black Perspectives
2017-04-11

Merve Fejzula
University of Cambridge

Perhaps more than other forms of criticism, outsiders often imagine literary criticism to be free from the vagaries of the present moment. American President Donald Trump and British politician Nigel Farage, the former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, may intrude on other aspects of life, but surely we can still enjoy the beauty of John Keats’sOde on a Grecian Urn” in relative peace. Yet aesthetic appreciation is as subject to Hamlet’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as anything else, and nowhere does this pliable relationship to literature assert itself more than in the critical reception of authors of color . An illustrative example of this dynamic might be charted through the work of Zadie Smith, presented by the literary world as the “mixed-raced” poster child for the cosmopolitan axis of LondonBrooklyn

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,

Shaken Out of Time: Black Bodies and Movement in Zadie Smith’s Swing Time

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2017-01-18 21:30Z by Steven

Shaken Out of Time: Black Bodies and Movement in Zadie Smith’s Swing Time

Virginia Quarterly Review
Volume 93, Number 1, Winter 2017
pages 196-199

Kaitlyn Greenidge
Bennington College, Bennington, Vermont

Swing Time By Zadie Smith, Penguin, 2016, 464p. HB, $27.

Midway through Zadie Smith’s new novel, Swing Time, the unnamed narrator watches two girls walk “hand in hand” down a dusty road in an anonymous, fictionalized African country. “They looked like best friends,” she notes—that “looked” suggesting the mysteries of friendship that the novel has been dedicated to up until that point. “They were out at the edge of the world, or of the world I knew, and watching them, I realized it was…almost impossible for me to imagine what time felt like for them, out here.” The girls inevitably remind the narrator of her own lost, best friend, Tracey, who angrily haunts the novel, forever resisting the narrator’s attempts to regulate her to incorporeality. Of their friendship, she notes, “We thought we were products of a particular moment, because as well as our old musicals, we liked things like Ghostbusters and Dallas. We felt we had our place in time. What person on earth doesn’t feel this way?” But the narrator is unable to place the two girls before her in any time. “When I waved at those two girls…I couldn’t rid myself of the idea that they were timeless symbols of girlhood…I knew it couldn’t possibly be the case but I had no other way of thinking of them.”

In an interview in T: The New York Times Style Magazine this past fall, Smith noted, “It just seemed to me that what was done to black people, historically, was to take them out of the time of their life. That’s what fundamentally happened. We had a life in one place and it would have continued and who knows what would have happened—nobody knows. But it would’ve gone a certain way, and we were removed from that timeline, placed somewhere entirely different, and radically disrupted. And the consequences of that are pretty much unending. Every people have their trauma. It’s not a competition of traumas. But they’re different in nature. And this one is about having been removed from time.” Swing Time is a novel that is fundamentally concerned with this question. What do we do, how do we respond, when we are violently shaken out of time, when we lose the thread of our own lives, when we are so certain of the narrative of our life and then are suddenly, jarringly, shaken loose? How do we reconcile, what are the lies and myths we tell ourselves, to try and reclaim our time? And when do those lies hurt us and when do they help us find our footing again?

When we meet the narrator of Swing Time, she is deep in the midst of mysterious disgrace, briefly infamous worldwide for a perceived wrong she’s committed against a Madonna-like global superstar who goes by the single name of Aimee. The narrator is Aimee’s assistant: She has worked tirelessly for the past decade helping Aimee, a white woman, set up a school for girls in that unidentified African country. Aimee is a woman who has created her own myth for herself, using sex and youth and pop music to forge a destiny that would not have been available to any woman a generation before her. The narrator meets her by chance, devotes her life to her, and finds herself unmarried and childless, a cog in the superstar celebrity machine of Aimee’s life. But it becomes clear, even though the narrator has spent her adult life serving Aimee, it’s not the pop star who holds her attention. Instead, she exists in a kind of suspended dream state, reliving her brief friendship with Tracey, the only other mixed-race girl in the narrator’s neighborhood in the early 1980s. The narrator’s parents are genteelly poor, and her mother, in particular, is ambitious: She reads postcolonial theory and takes courses on Marxism, ruthlessly forging her identity as a poor, black woman in Britain into a professional activist and self-conscious, self…

Tags: , , ,

The World of Zadie Smith: Mixed-Race People and Polychromatic Dreams

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2017-01-12 03:42Z by Steven

The World of Zadie Smith: Mixed-Race People and Polychromatic Dreams

The Wire
2017-01-11

Radhika Oberoi

Swing Time like its predecessors is intensely curious about race, but it is also curious about so much more than race, such as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Ali Baba Goes to Town and Michael Jackson.

Cool Britannia, slickly marketed by Tony Blair’s Labour government, was hardly a monochromatic one. The London of Alexander McQueen, Oasis, Blur, Damien Hurst and the Spice Girls was a pastiche of the preceding Conservative regimes and a variegated motif of multiculturalism. White Teeth, that rollicking sketch of the post-colonial migrant experience, that comical world of inter-locking narratives – a genre that James Wood compellingly defined as ‘hysterical realism’ – landed amidst the boisterous icons of Cool Britannia in 2000, announcing the arrival of Zadie Smith – young, black, British, freckled, high cheek-boned.

White Teeth, an ostensibly hilarious examination of the vagaries of racially mixed friendships, is perhaps the loudest testimony to what Smith does best – bring the Joneses, the Iqbals and the Chalfens together in the hybrid topography of Willesden in north-west London. The book is, as described by Smith herself, in an interview, “…a kind of mishmash, as first novels tend to be”. Swing Time, Smith’s newest fiction, published in November 2016, is an evocation of that very universe – a hotchpotch of people and places, a medley of sights and sounds and smells. It is also a deeper and somewhat quieter rumination on race…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , ,

On Optimism and Despair

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Europe, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations on 2016-12-22 02:28Z by Steven

On Optimism and Despair

The New York Review of Books
2016-12-22

Zadie Smith

A talk given in Berlin on November 10 on receiving the 2016 Welt Literature Prize.

First I would like to acknowledge the absurdity of my position. Accepting a literary prize is perhaps always a little absurd, but in times like these not only the recipient but also the giver feels some sheepishness about the enterprise. But here we are. President Trump rises in the west, a united Europe drops below the horizon on the other side of the ocean—but here we still are, giving a literary prize, receiving one. So many more important things were rendered absurd by the events of November 8 that I hesitate to include my own writing in the list, and only mention it now because the most frequent question I’m asked about my work these days seems to me to have some bearing on the situation at hand.

The question is: “In your earlier novels you sounded so optimistic, but now your books are tinged with despair. Is this fair to say?” It is a question usually posed in a tone of sly eagerness—you will recognize this tone if you’ve ever heard a child ask permission to do something she has in fact already done…

…I realize as I write this that I have strayed some way from the happiness that should rightly attend accepting a literary prize. I am very happy to accept this great honor—please don’t mistake me. I am more than happy—I am amazed. When I started to write I never imagined that anyone outside of my neighborhood would read these books, never mind outside of England, never mind “on the continent,” as my father liked to call it. I remember how stunned I was to embark on my very first European book tour, to Germany, with my father, who had last been here in 1945, as a young soldier in the reconstruction. It was a trip filled, for him, with nostalgia: he had loved a German girl, back in 1945, and one of his great regrets, he admitted to me on that trip, was not marrying her and instead coming home, to England, and marrying first one woman and then another, my mother.

We made a funny pair on that tour, I’m sure: a young black girl and her elderly white father, clutching our guidebooks and seeking those spots in Berlin that my father had visited almost fifty years earlier. It is from him that I have inherited both my optimism and my despair, for he had been among the liberators at Belsen and therefore seen the worst this world has to offer, but had, from there, gone forward, with a sufficiently open heart and mind, striding into one failed marriage and then another, marrying both times across various lines of class, color, and temperament, and yet still found in life reasons to be cheerful, reasons even for joy.

He was, I realize now, one of the least ideological people I ever met: everything that happened to him he took as a particular case, unable or unwilling to generalize from it. He lost his livelihood but did not lose faith in his country. The education system failed him but he still revered it and placed all his hopes for his children in it. His relations with women were mostly disastrous but he did not hate women. In his mind he did not marry a black girl, he married “Yvonne,” and he did not have an experimental set of mixed-race children, he had me and my brother Ben and my brother Luke.

How rare such people are! I am not so naive even now as to believe we have enough of them at any one time in history to form a decent and tolerant society. But neither will I ever deny their existence or the possibility of lives like his. He was a member of the white working class, a man often afflicted by despair who still managed to retain a core optimism. Perhaps in a different time under different cultural influences living in a different society he would have become one of the rabid old angry white men of whom the present left is so afeared. As it was, born in 1925 and dying in 2006, he saw his children benefit from the civilized postwar protections of free education and free health care, and felt he had many reasons to be grateful…

Read the entire talk here.

Tags: , , , ,

Zadie Smith’s Swing Time is a dance to the rhythms of womanhood

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2016-12-11 21:41Z by Steven

Zadie Smith’s Swing Time is a dance to the rhythms of womanhood

iNews
2016-11-02

Salena Godden

Zadie Smith, Swing Time (New York: Penguin Press, 2016)

Swing Time is a quiet and rhythmic book. Just as the title suggests, this book swings, oscillating from past to present, like the steady rhythm of a pendulum.

This is the story of two brown girls who dream of dancing. Tracey is the skint but talented one; our unnamed first person narrator… not so much. Where Tracey’s mother serves Angel Delight in a kitchen with a cork board heaving with gold medals, our narrator’s mother wears a cocked beret and keeps her head buried in books to better herself.

Living on the same estate, the mothers come from two different worlds, and the girls’ friendship blossoms awkwardly. They compare and compete, outgrow each other to take different paths, then come full circle.

This is a book about living in the spotlight and living in the wings. It time-travels using music and dance, from north London to west Africa, from the ghosts of Chicago swing to Hollywood musicals, jazz and ragtime, to reggae and the golden era of hip-hop. It is also, centrally, about female friendships: the strange envy one might feel when a friend seems to be moving on, moving away, moving faster, almost betraying us with their successful career or by having a baby or getting married. We all have had that friend or maybe we are that friend to someone else…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , ,

Zadie Smith on Male Critics, Appropriation, and What Interests Her Novelistically About Trump

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2016-11-24 21:54Z by Steven

Zadie Smith on Male Critics, Appropriation, and What Interests Her Novelistically About Trump

The Slate Book Review
Slate
2016-11-16

Isaac Chotiner

A wide-ranging conversation.

In an interview in 2000, Zadie Smith told the Guardian about the pressure she felt after the astonishing success of her debut novel, White Teeth. “I was expected to be some expert on multicultural affairs, as if multiculturalism is a genre of fiction or something,” she said. “Whereas it’s just a fact of life—like there are people of different races on the planet.” Whether it’s indeed a fact of life or, we now fear, a feature of American life that is at risk of erasure, multiculturalism in all its complexity is at the center of Smith’s books. From White Teeth to NW, which was published in 2012, Smith’s characters inhabit mixed urban communities, often in London. Her latest novel, Swing Time, is out this week; set in England and West Africa, the story concerns the friendship of two young girls who meet in a dance class (“our shade of brown was exactly the same”) and traces the paths of their lives over a quarter-century.

Smith, who grew up in London with a Jamaican mother and English father, has also established herself as one of her generation’s prolific essayists, weighing in energetically on such topics as Middlemarch and Brexit and E.M. Forster. (Her third novel, On Beauty, was an “homage” to Howards End.) She now lives with her husband and children in New York City. I had been trying to interview her for years, to no avail. When the chance finally presented itself, the date and time kept changing, usually a sign of a reluctant subject. But when we did eventually speak over the phone, the day before the election, Smith, now 41, seemed surprisingly at ease. (Weren’t we all in those innocent days?)

Over the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed the vulnerability one feels writing fiction, the arrogance of male critics, and why she doesn’t have a smartphone…

Since your new book spans continents, from Europe to Africa, did you think about the target audience? Who are you writing for?

This time I was thinking very particularly about black girls. I’m very happy if other people read the book, but that’s who the book is for explicitly, and that’s who I wanted to write to…

Read the entire interview here.

Tags: , , , ,

Zadie Smith’s Rhythmic Play in Shadow and Light

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2016-11-23 02:21Z by Steven

Zadie Smith’s Rhythmic Play in Shadow and Light

Los Angeles Review of Books
2016-11-17

Walton Muyumba, Associate Professor Assistant Director of Creative Writing
Indiana University

Zadie Smith, Swing Time (New York: Penguin Press, 2016).

I FINISHED READING SWING TIME, Zadie Smith’s new novel, her fifth, around the time the Swedish Academy announced that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Among my initial reactions to this confluence was to think of Marcus Carl Franklin, the young African-American actor who portrayed one version of Dylan in Todd Haynes’s 2007 biographical film, I’m Not There. Franklin plays Woody, an imagined Dylan in his Woody Guthrie stage, a role Dylan himself constructed as a cross between the hoboing white troubadour and a wandering black blues man; on-screen, then, Franklin performs a performance of a performance. Haynes’s casting choice is cinematic legerdemain: blackface minstrelsy has had a central role in American entertainment from Thomas D. Rice to Bert Williams to Al Jolson to Fred Astaire to Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder, so at the very least, Franklin’s performance points to the blues-idiom roots of Dylan’s musical archive and to the kinds of masking (even behind Negro performance and Welsh poetic traditions) that he has put on to “get over.” American culture, like America’s gene pool, is definitely mixed, but Franklin’s performance both represents Dylan’s musical core and disappears from our memory in the matrix of the other actors’ performances in Haynes’s film.

Smith knows about these kinds of erasures and disappearances. In the middle of Swing Time, the narrator/protagonist recalls watching, as a child, Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937) with her best friend, Tracey. Growing up in 1980s London, the girls share a love of dance, Michael Jackson, and Hollywood musicals. They are both biracial and live across the street from each other in mirroring council estates in northwest London. As they enter puberty, their early closeness begins to tear as Tracey’s dance talent opens opportunities for a future on stage, and the narrator begins a kind of extended period of wandering. The narrator’s mother, with her urgent need to shove her daughter toward the middle class, also works to disrupt their connection and let Tracey fade back to her lower class beginnings…

Roth is an interesting forerunner here: The Human Stain is about blackness, racial passing, and the private self, while Swing Time is about blackness, class passing, biracial identity, and the unknown self. Swing Time could be the narrator’s straightforward realist memoir about growing up biracial in a council flat with a compliant, Anglo father and an ambitious, Jamaican mother; about a long, strange friendship and rivalry with Tracey; about a middle class striving and the vagaries of ethnically mixed life in NW London; about the enabling fictions and intellectual freedoms of British university life in the late 1990s; or about experiences with pop celebrity as a member of an entourage, including building a school for girls in Gambia. Instead, Smith offers a narrator who goes sideways…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , ,

Zadie Smith: By the Book

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism on 2016-11-19 21:15Z by Steven

Zadie Smith: By the Book

The New York Times
2016-11-17


Zadie Smith Credit Illustration by Jillian Tamaki

The author, most recently, of “Swing Time” says the best gift book she ever received was from her dying father, who “gave me his copy of ‘Ulysses,’ along with the confession he had never read it.”

What books are on your night stand now?

I’m on a reading jag after a long period of only writing, so there’s a towering “to read” pile: “Sudden Death,” by Álvaro Enrigue; “Using Life,” a novel by the imprisoned Egyptian Ahmed Naje; “Homegoing,” by Yaa Gyasi; “Heroes of the Frontier,” by Dave Eggers; “The Underground Railroad,” by Colson Whitehead; “Diary of the Fall,” by Michel Laub; “The Good Immigrant,” edited by Nikesh Shukla; “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson; “Birth of a Bridge,” by Maylis de Kerangal; “Known and Strange Things,” by Teju Cole; “The Little Communist Who Never Smiled,” by Lola Lafon; “The Fire This Time,” edited by Jesmyn Ward; “At the Existentialist Café,” by Sarah Bakewell; “Time Reborn,” by Lee Smolin; “Moonglow,” by Michael Chabon; and let’s say the last four or five novels by Marías, several by Krasznahorkai, and — as always — unfinished Proust. I much prefer reading to writing: I can’t wait…

Read the entire interview here.

Tags: , ,