UNC Greensboro University Libraries welcomed a major literary star to campus this past weekend – Zadie Smith – in conjunction with the Greensboro Bound literary festival.

Smith is the author of critically acclaimed novels “White Teeth,” “On Beauty,” and “Swing Time,” as well as two books of essays, the newest of which, “Feel Free,” she read from at UNCG’s Cone Ballroom. She is the winner of numerous prizes, including the 2018 National Critics Circle Award, and is a tenured writing professor at New York University.

Dean of University Libraries Martin Halbert interviewed Smith for a crowd of around 500 people from the Greensboro community and beyond. Smith spoke on many topics in response to Halbert’s questions, focused in four areas: literary work, her life, her writing process, and her thoughts on life and society.

With her typical wit and humor mixed with a contemplative perspective, Smith described her experience as a first-generation college student, her family environment and how it supported her, her experience as a parent and a writer, and as a teacher.

“There’s wisdom to every part of life,” she said.

writer speaking to crowd

Zadie Smith reads from her newest book of essays, “Feel Free.”

She spoke of how her viewpoint has changed since the publication of her first book and shared her own early experiences with literature and her major influences, such as Alice Walker, E.M. Forster, and Charlotte Brontë.

“Everybody needs a way through,” she said. “It’s different for every person. For me, I needed books that allowed me to think I could write and books that had somewhat of my vision of what people are.”

Smith also discussed the value of reading in general and how being attuned to someone else’s perspective through fiction can inform the reader about social landscape and history in a unique way.

“Access to other lives is always what I’m looking for, and it’s a gift.”

Toward the conversation’s close, Smith reflected strongly on the inherent value of libraries as essential places for access and community.

 

Story by Susan Kirby-Smith, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications