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MULTIRACIAL #WCW: ZADIE SMITH


With husband, poet Nick Laird

With husband, poet Nick Laird

This remarkable woman just came out with another novel and I’m so excited!  She was the featured guest for Fresh Air on NPR about a week ago and I sat in a parking lot for the full-hour interview. 

 

OK, so backing up…

I read White Teeth, very late, right before I became pregnant with my daughter in 2007.  I couldn’t put the book down.  Zadie Smith is so lyrical, so RAW.  Being mixed-race herself, she writes from a deep place about growing up mixed-race.  She examines immigrants and their children and the tug and pull of longing for a homeland while making a home in a new land; a new land where your neighbors are from all over, doing the same thing.  She is witty, truthful, and a great storyteller.  White Teeth, her debut novel, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, the 2000 Whitbread Book Award in category best first novel, the Guardian First Book Award, the Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize, and the Betty Trask AwardTime magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

 

Can we say “baller”?

Since her debut novel, Smith has written four more novels, countless stories, and essays.  She’s brilliant.  And this is really a Woman Crush for me – I know I wrote about Rose Bertram before, but I don’t know much about Rose Bertram, except she’s very attractive, is dating a hot soccer player, and has an amazing Instagram.  Rose could be quite the erudite, I just don’t know; however, Zadie Smith finished White Teeth while in her final year at Cambridge University...

 

A little more about this woman du jour (taken from Wikipedia):

Zadie Smith was born as Sadie Smith in the north-west London borough of Brent to a Jamaican (Black) mother, Yvonne Bailey, and an English (Caucasian) father, Harvey Smith.  Her mother had grown up in Jamaica and migrated to England in 1969. Their marriage was her father's second. Zadie has a half-sister, a half-brother, and two younger brothers, one of whom is the rapper and stand-up comedian Doc Brown and the other is rapper Luc Skyz. As a child, she was fond of tap dancing; as a teenager, she considered a career as an actress in musical theatre; and as a university student she earned money as a jazz singer and wanted to become a journalist.
 

Her interview on Fresh Air made me fall in love even more – it can seriously be its own post.  She is so intelligent and insightful.  A couple excerpts:

On a poll that found that about seven in 10 Donald Trump supporters thought life in America was better in the 1950s

Zadie Smith:

This is a very interesting point for me because that kind of historical nostalgia is only available to a certain kind of person. ... I can't go back to the '50s, because life in the '50s for me is not pretty, nor is it pretty in 1320 or 1460 or 1580 or 1820 or even 1960 in this country, very frankly. So that's what interests me — the historical nostalgia that is available or not available to others.
I am also historically nostalgic, and the left is also historically nostalgic, and as tempting as it would be to apply the solutions of 1970s semi-socialist England to present problems, I don't think that's possible either. I think the idea is that you find some way to restate the things you find valuable in the past — if you find them valuable — in a way that people can live with, in a way that's livable in this contemporary moment.

On how being biracial allows her to blend in with different cultures

Zadie Smith:

I think people of my shade all over the world will have these experiences: You might go to Morocco and people will believe you Moroccan; you might go to Egypt and be confused for an Egyptian; you might find yourself in Bangladesh and people are talking Bengali to you. It's an interesting mind state, one I've always found very enjoyable, actually. ... I guess ... the movability of the identity is interesting, whereas I suppose a white person is white wherever they go. They're kind of stuck with it, whereas I find the interesting interpretive quality that my shade creates in others curious — sometimes funny, sometimes upsetting, sometimes alarming.
 

And I haven’t even mentioned her beauty and style.  I’m providing photos for that…

MULTIRACIAL #WCW: ZADIE SMITH via Swirl Nation Blog
MULTIRACIAL #WCW: ZADIE SMITH via Swirl Nation Blog
And she can hold her own standing next to a model and fashion designer

And she can hold her own standing next to a model and fashion designer


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BOOK REVIEW: "THE GILDED YEARS" BY KARIN TANABE


The lead character’s real picture from the late 1800s

The lead character’s real picture from the late 1800s

While reading TheSkimm, I stumbled on this book review:

 

“The Gilded Years” by Karin Tanabe
Based on the true story of the first African-American woman to ever go to Vassar College. The catch? No one knew she was African-American. After befriending the school’s Serena van der Woodsen, she has to work even harder at keeping her secret. Think: “Gatsby” meets college meets an impressive beach read.
 

My favorite book genre is historical fiction, my favorite era to read about is early 20th century, and I’m obsessed with women becoming modern and the struggle of Blacks post-slavery and pre-Civil Rights.  This book was perfect.  I have so little time and reading a book is very far down on my list of to-dos, so I rarely make time for this, but making time for this book was worth it.  I didn’t submit blog posts (sorry Jen!!!), to make time to read this book.  Luckily, it is a quick-read.

 

Because this book is based on history, resist the urge to google the lead character’s name.  Information about her life is available online, but the twists and turns of her story won’t be as sweet if you read about her life before finishing the book.  I am impatient, so I did google her, but I’m famous for not minding spoilers.

 

The lead character straddles between different worlds – Black/White, rich/poor – to seek a better future for herself that would be denied her if she did not pretend to be someone she is not.  It also addresses guilt amongst black people who aren’t “representing” and the pressure to be the poster child for a whole group of people.  The author, Karin Tanabe, put considerable time and research into writing this book.  She is a Vassar graduate and searched archives, even using real newspaper headlines printed in the late 1800s in the book.  Definitely read the afterward when you finish the book to gain more insight into how this story was discovered and uncovered.  The descendent of the lead character is doing further research on her family to determine if they are related to Thomas Jefferson, so I don’t think the story ends with this book.

 

One of the reasons I love reading about this era is the description of the times.  I love reading about the clothing, décor, and social activities.  The innocence of courtship and the chivalry of the men are always appealing to me.  I grew up reading Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, so a gloved-hand grazing a man’s arm is so much more up my alley than the explicit sexual encounters you’ll find in Fifty Shades of Grey.

The lead character’s real picture from the late 1800s

The lead character’s real picture from the late 1800s

I highly recommend this book and look forward to hearing what you thought about it in the comments below! You can purchase the book HERE.


 

 

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