Date March 17, 2016
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Acclaimed novelist Zadie Smith to read at Brown

Known for her explorations of mixed-race communities in England and the U.S., Smith comes to Brown on April 5 as part of the Writers on Writing series.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Zadie Smith, whose novels include White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, and NW, will read from her work in a free, open-to-the-public event on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 5, at Brown University’s Granoff Center.

Born in northwest London in 1975 to an English father and a Jamaican mother, Smith earned wide acclaim for her award-winning first novel, White Teeth, written while she was completing her undergraduate studies at Cambridge University. With the publication of each subsequent book, Smith has deepened her reputation for humane, provocative, witty and observant works that examine everything from cultural identity to celebrity and the struggle for economic and social mobility.

The author’s visit to Brown was arranged through a partnership of the literary arts and Africana studies departments, according to Joanna Howard, visiting lecturer in literary arts and one of two faculty members teaching a Writers on Writing course this semester. In those courses, students read and study a work of literature, and then attend a reading and engage in a question-and-answer session with the author. The structure affords students rare, firsthand access to the subject of their scholarship, and in the case of Smith, the chance to converse with a writer Howard describes as a “nuanced explorer of racial, social, and cultural boundaries, especially in urban communities.”

In her latest novel, NW, Smith renders a fictional northwest London neighborhood not unlike the one in which she grew up. In a 2012 interview with the Telegraph, she described it as a place where, unlike the publishing world, “nothing could be more normal than a mixed-race girl.” The novel concerns four adult characters who spent their childhoods in a public housing project in northwest London, and is divided into four discrete sections that follow the characters and their divergent trajectories. Published in 2012, it was listed as a best book of the year by publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian.

While the precise content of Smith’s reading has yet to be announced, the event is organized in part around NW, which students have read in this semester’s two Writers on Writing courses. Precedence will be given to student questions during the post-reading discussion, but general audience members will also have the opportunity to query Smith, as time allows.

“It’s really a remarkable opportunity for the students,” said Lori Baker, a novelist and the publicist and archivist in literary arts.

Gale Nelson, academic program director in literary arts, agrees. “In many a literature course, you really have questions, like: ‘What is the intention of the author?’” Even if a writer should choose to demur, there is interpretive value to hearing a work read in the voice of its author, he added.

For Howard, who said it was her dream to have Smith participate in the Writers on Writing program since reading NW, Smith’s visit is meaningful as a literary event and because the author is a powerful role model, especially for young writers and artists of color.

Smith is the recipient of The Whitbread First Novel Award, The Guardian First Book Award, The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, and The Commonwealth Writers' First Book Award as well as The Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize, The Commonwealth Writers’ Best Book Award (Eurasia Section), and the Orange Prize for Fiction. She is the editor of an anthology of short stories entitled The Book of Other People and a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. The New Books columnist for Harper's Magazine, she has taught at Harvard and Columbia universities and is a tenured professor of creative writing at New York University.

The reading, which is free and open to the public, takes place at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5, at the Granoff Center’s Martinos Auditorium at 154 Angell Street. Free tickets must be reserved to attend – they will be made available beginning March 17 at