Zadie Smith (born on 25 October 1975) is a British novelist. To date she has written three novels. In 2003, she was included on Granta’s list of 20 best young authors. She joined New York University’s Creative Writing Program as a tenured professor on September 1, 2010.
Zadie Smith was born as Sadie Smith in the northwest London borough of Brent – a largely working-class area – to a Jamaican mother, Yvonne Bailey, and a British father, Harvey Smith. Her mother had grown up in Jamaica and emigrated to Britain 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 parents divorced when she was a teenager. When she was 14, she changed her name to “Zadie”. Despite earlier ambitions, literature emerged as her principal interest and would provide a model for her future career.
Smith attended the local state schools, Malorees Junior School and Hampstead Comprehensive School, and King’s College, Cambridge University where she studied English literature. In an interview with The Guardian in 2000, Smith corrected a newspaper assertion that she left Cambridge with a double First. “Actually, I got a Third in my Part Ones,” she said.
Zadie Smith seems to have been rejected for a place in the Cambridge Footlights by the popular British comedy double act Mitchell and Webb, while all three were studying at Cambridge University in the 1990s.
At Cambridge she published a number of short stories in a collection of new student writing called The Mays Anthology. These attracted the attention of a publisher, who offered her a contract for her first novel. Smith decided to contact a literary agent and was taken on by A.P. Watt. Smith returned to guest-edit the anthology in 2001.
White Teeth was introduced to the publishing world in 1997, long before it was completed. On the basis of a partial manuscript an auction among different publishers for the rights started, with Hamish Hamilton being successful. Smith completed White Teeth during her final year at Cambridge. Published in 2000, the novel became a bestseller immediately. It was praised internationally and won a number of awards (see Novels). The novel was adapted for television in 2002 by Channel 4. She also served as “writer in residence” at the ICA in London and subsequently published, as editor, an anthology of sex writing, Piece of Flesh, as the culmination of this role.
In interviews she reported that the hype surrounding her first novel had caused her to suffer a short spell of writer’s block. Nevertheless, her second novel, The Autograph Man, was published in 2002 and was a commercial success, although the critical response was not as positive as it had been to White Teeth.
After the publication of The Autograph Man, Smith visited the United States as a 2002–2003 Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellow at Harvard University.She started work on a still unreleased book of essays, The Morality of the Novel, aka “Fail Better”, in which she considers a selection of 20th-century writers through the lens of moral philosophy. Some portions of this book presumably are included in the essay collection Changing My Mind, published in November 2009.
The second novel was followed by another, On Beauty, published in September 2005 and which is set largely in and around Greater Boston and which attracted more acclaim. This third novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction.
In December 2008 she guest edited the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.