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17 Pieces of Wisdom from Zadie Smith

Today is the 43rd birthday of Zadie Smith— a literary powerhouse whose first novel, White Teeth, was published when she was twenty-five. Biracial and the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant, Smith uses recurring motifs of personal, familial, and cultural histories— three things which are occasionally the exact same thing and just as occasionally contradictory to each other. Now a tenured professor at NYU, Smith continues to explore race, class, and the reaches of fate in a way that makes them less of topics to discuss and more of worlds to climb into. To celebrate, here are seventeen quotes on life, writing, and perception from Smith's full body of novels and essay collections.

 

White Teeth (2000)

 

'White Teeth' by Zadie Smith

Image via kensandersbooks.com

 

"We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that there might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship. Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time."

 

"Ridding oneself of faith is like boiling seawater to retrieve the salt— something is gained but something is lost."

 

Martha and Hanwell (2003)

 

'Martha and Hanwell' by Zadie Smith

Image via amazon.com

 

"The more time I spend with the tail end of Generation Facebook (in the shape of my students) the more convinced I become that some of the software currently shaping their generation is unworthy of them. They are more interesting than it is. They deserve better.” 

 

The Autograph Man (2003)

 

'The Autograph Man' by Zadie Smith

Image via amazon.com

 

“People don't settle for people. They resolve to be with them. It takes faith. You draw a circle in the sand and agree to stand in it and believe in it.” 

 

"He wanted to be in the world and take what came with it, endings local and universal, full stops, periods, looks of injured disappointment and the everyday war. He liked the everyday war. He was taking that with fries. To go."

 

On Beauty (2005)

 

'On Beauty' by Zadie Smith

Image via amazon.com

 

"And so it happened again, the daily miracle whereby interiority opens out and brings to bloom the million-petalled flower of being here, in the world, with other people."

 

“Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone."

 

Changing My Mind (2009)

 

'Changing My Mind' by Zadie Smith

Image via goodreads.com

 

When you enter a beloved novel many times, you can come to feel that you possess it, that nobody else has ever lived there. You try not to notice the party of impatient tourists trooping through the kitchen (Pnin a minor scenic attraction en route to the canyon Lolita), or that shuffling academic army, moving in perfect phalanx, as they stalk a squirrel around the backyard (or a series of squirrels, depending on their methodology).

 

White novelists are not white novelists but simply “novelists,” and white characters are not white characters but simply “human,” and criticism of both is not partial or personal but a matter of aesthetics. Such critics will always sound like the neutral universal, and the black women who have championed Their Eyes Were Watching God in the past, and the one doing so now, will seem like black women talking about a black book.

 

NW (2012)

'NW' by Zadie Smith

Image via wikipedia.org

 

"Not everyone wants this conventional little life you're rowing your boat toward. I like my river of fire. And when it's time for me to go I fully intend to roll off my one person dinghy into the flames and be consumed. I'm not afraid."

 

“I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me.”

 

The Embassy of Cambodia (2013)

 

'The Embassy of Cambodia' by Zadie Smith

Image via amazon.com

 

"There's always somebody who wants to be the Big Man, and take everything for themselves, and tell everybody how to think and what to do. When, actually, it's he who is weak. But if the Big Men see that yousee that they are weak they have no choice but to destroy you. That is the real tragedy.” 

 

“If we followed the history of every little country in this world—in its dramatic as well as its quiet times—we would have no space left in which... to apply ourselves to our necessary tasks, never mind indulge in occasional pleasures... Surely there is something to be said for drawing a circle around our attention and remaining within that circle. But how large should this circle be?” 

 

Swing Time (2016)

 

'Swing Time' by Zadie Smith

 

"People aren't poor because they make bad choices. They make bad choices because they're poor."

 

"My rage was the only thing keeping me awake, I was feeding off it in that righteous way you can if you never mention the wrong you are being done." 

 

 

Feel Free (2018)

 

'Feel Free' by Zadie Smith

Image via amazon.com

 

“I am seized by two contradictory feelings: there is so much beauty in the world it is incredible that we are ever miserable for a moment; there is so much shit in the world that it is incredible we are ever happy for a moment.” 

 

"Between propriety and joy choose joy.” 

 

 

 

Featured Image via thetimes.co.uk