Award-Winning Novelist and Essayist Reads and Chats at Wellesley as Part of Newhouse Center for the Humanities Distinguished Writers Series

December 1, 2014
close-up Zadie Smith reading

The Susan and Donald Newhouse Center for the Humanities welcomes Zadie Smith to campus December 1 for the final installment of this semester’s Distinguished Writers Series. Fall dates have featured Colson Whitehead, Nathalie Handal, Robin Robertson, Etgar Keret, and Benjamin Percy, all in the program’s signature format: The writers read, have a conversation with a faculty member, then engage in an open dialogue with the audience.

Smith will be introduced by Nikki Greene of Wellesley’s Art Department, who says that she been following Smith's work since her groundbreaking debut novel, White Teeth, in 2000. “I hope that students of all backgrounds find inspiration from Zadie Smith, who found her literary voice very early, publishing White Teeth just three years after she graduated from Cambridge,” says Greene. “Few authors address the complicated terrains of race, sex, and class with the level of sophistication and humor with which Smith has through four novels and numerous short stories.”

White Teeth won a number of awards and prizes, including the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best First Book), and two BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Awards (Best Book/Novel and Best Female Media Newcomer). It was included in Time magazine’s “TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005” list, and has been translated into more than 20 languages.

Shortly after graduating from Cambridge in 1997, Smith’s tenure as Writer in Residence at the Institute of Contemporary Arts resulted in the publication of an anthology of erotic stories entitled Piece of Flesh (2001). Her second novel, The Autograph Man (2002), a story of loss, obsession, and the nature of celebrity, won the 2003 Jewish Quarterly Literary Prize for Fiction. In 2003 and 2013 she was named by Granta magazine as one of 20 “Best of Young British Novelists.”

On Beauty was published in 2005, and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction. A group of Wellesley faculty, staff, and students gathered in the Newhouse Center recently for a book club-style discussion of On Beauty. Among the themes discussed were alternative titles to the book; Smith's exploration of themes of beauty, class, race, and language; and the homage she pays to E.M. Forster's classic Howard's End. Greene, who attended the discussion, admired how “Smith manages to create scenes of quasi-Shakespearean tragedy with modern spaces from a fictitious Boston-area academic community.”

Zadie Smith has also written a nonfiction book about writing entitled Fail Better (2006).  She is currently a tenured professor of creative writing at New York University. A self-described “pathological reader,” she credits every book she has ever read with having changed her life—“even the ones I hated. Books are my version of ‘experiences.’ I’m made of them.” (source:, “What It Means to Be Addicted to Reading.”)

Smith’s book Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays came out in 2009. In 2013, her short story The Embassy of Cambodia was published in the United Kingdom as a stand-alone story in book form, selling in excess of 40,000 copies in the first year of publication.

Her latest novel, NW (2012), was named as one of the New York Times “10 Best Books of 2012.” NW, which uses a series innovative narrative and framing devices, focuses on the stories of four young women growing on a fictional council estate in North West London. Although Smith calls NW her first book as an adult, it has been received as a remarkably successful work by an experienced and thoughtful author.

The Distinguished Writers Series, including Zadie Smith’s appearance, is free and open to the public. Guests are invited to join the Wellesley community for the Zadie Smith program in the Knapp Atrium in Pendleton East at 4:30 p.m. on December 1.