Published in
Talk to Me

Talk to Me: Zadie Smith and Gemma Sieff

English writer Zadie Smith has accomplished so much in the past 11 years. Her first novel, White Teeth, was published in 2000 before she even turned 25. Now, she's got two additional novels, a number of short stories, and a growing body of criticism under her belt. Smith was also named a tenured creative writing professor at New York University last September and was recently made the critic for Harper's Magazine's "New Books" column.

On Wednesday, Smith discussed her new role as critic with her new editor at Harper's, Gemma Sieff. The two talked about how writing criticism differs from fiction writing and Smith's love-hate obsession with the Internet.

Bon Mots

On writing non-fiction versus fiction: "The thing I'm attracted to when I'm writing non-fiction is that you don't know, but you can know, right? There's a possibility of knowing. You can control the area in which you write. And to me it feels like a small formal garden and I can make it as nice as possible. Whereas novels are absolutely chaotic and messy and embarrassing."

On writing criticism: "The kind of reviewing I like, or the kind I aspire to, takes another moment. It's easy to feel contempt for writing, or to get one over on it. I guess I'm trying to read a book along its own grain, and not against its grain. I don't have enough energy to write about something I hate.

On writing in a digital world: "When I'm using the Internet I am addicted. I'm not able to concentrate on anything else. This isn't a fancy argument. I'm trying to be honest. It's pathetic— like a drug addicted. I had to get e-mail taken off my phone!"