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Author Zadie Smith Reads at Hunter

Zadie Smith read from her still-unfinished novel, NW, in front of a large gathering of students and fans in the Faculty Dining Room on Thursday evening, October 6, as part of the Hunter College MFA Creative Writing Program's ongoing Distinguished Writers Series.

"Smith's work is generous and savvy, eclectic and agile." Hunter College Distinguished Lecturer Colum McCann said in his introductory remarks. "She seems to write with apparent ease, like dancing. But we all know nothing is so simple, especially the art of seeming simplicity."

Smith was born in London and is currently a professor at New York University in the Creative Writing Program. She is the author of three acclaimed novels, White Teeth, The Autograph Man and On Beauty, as well as a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. She is also the editor of an anthology of short stories, The Book of Other People, and recently has been the book reviewer for Harper's Magazine.

After reading the first chapter of her upcoming book, set in London's Northwest district, Smith answered questions from the audience.

When asked to name her literary influences, she cited Vladimir Nabokov specifically, but admitted it would take far too long to truly acknowledge all the writers who have left a lasting impression on her. "For better or for worse," Smith said, "my influences are the typical English, European, American canon. At university, we started at medieval literature and finished with say, Ian McEwan."

Smith claimed that the writing is difficult for her, and that she tries to write in a linear fashion, sentence by sentence, from beginning to end. "I try to write very subconsciously," Smith said. "Our subconscious has a very good organizing system. I think it would be depressing to know how a story ends while I am writing it."

Smith alsooffered advice to the aspiring fiction writers in the audience.

"I warn my students against writing anecdotal fiction, where they just tell you the various qualities of this character, telling you what the person is like," Smith said. "In Flannery O'Connor's story A Good Man is Hard to Find, most people remember the grandmother character in that story as a mean, narcissistic, foolish woman. Poorer writers would have just told you how mean she is, but O'Connor does not use one word of judgment. She allows readers to draw their own conclusions through the grandmother's actions."

Finally, Smith was asked to narrow down the most important thing she has learned about writing.

"This may sound like cheesy advice, but you have to tell the truth," Smith said. "You don't have to write a memoir, but you have to try and be honest. Writing that shines a pretty shadow on your personality or on you is not honest writing. People aren't that pretty. When I write, I am always thinking about how things really are for me."

The Distinguished Writers Series continues on October 20th when poet Carol Muske-Dukes will read from a collection of her poetry. For more information, please go to

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