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Zadie Smith and Jane Austen

Filed under: New Yorker Festival   Tagged: ,

Photo after the jump—I love my fancy new template, but am still experimenting with images on the homepage. Smith’s in the foreground and Austen in the background, in the form of glass flowers from a Cambridge, Mass., museum collection. That’s how Smith reads her, anyway, enviably beautiful and well formed though “cold to the touch.” Not quite how I’d characterize Austen’s writing, but that’s precisely Smith’s point, or one of many of them. Gorgeous, engaging, challenging, galvanizing lecture. A mighty event, worth repeating as a Dickensian tour of North America, not that Smith doesn’t have other things to attend to. Her PowerPoint presentation was as charming as a PowerPoint presentation can get, with uncentered pixely Courier intertitles an appropriately low-tech complement to her armchair-reader aria. And it kept the listeners lively, also appropriate to her warnings against sleepwalking through either one’s sentences or one’s entire life.

Zadie Smith

Zadie SmithPhotos: Bill Davila/startraksphoto.com


I didn’t know that Smith read Austen — when I heard her give an intervie at City Arts & Lectures she listed a number of favorite authors and didn’t include a single woman (or person writing post-1950). There’s something about a black woman preaching the canon that’s actually kind of refreshing…plus Zadie Smith can write like a dream. Just finished listening to White Teeth on tape, read by Jenny Sterlin, and absolutely loved it. The accents are awesome.

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