Thursday, October 25, 2012

notes on zadie smith's u of mn lecture

Sometimes I'll do event photography for the English department, and this time, it was for the autumn Esther-Frier lecture with Zadie Smith.  My big duty is to get a photo of the visiting writer with the descendants of our donor, which means I'll attend the dinner, and if I weren't a volatile pregnant lady, I might have partaken in the food, which looked delicious, but I stuck with water for safety.  As it happened, the sweltering auditorium filled past the brim, and since I sat in one of the front rows, there's no way I could have subtly slipped out for any reasons.  Some events are like this--Junot Diaz--and some are more sparsely attended.

I remember when I was an undergraduate, searching for a copy of White Teeth just after it came out.  I think this was the first time I was aware of the patience required for hard cover to arrive in paperback.  Ryan even seems to remember these early bookstore days.  There was something deeply meaningful, in that Smith is only four or five years older than I am, which gave me hope and pressure for my own writing goals. 

Sometimes a visiting lecturer will actually just read from his or her book and answer a few questions.  Sometimes a visiting lecturer will have an actual lecture, and these are the ones I appreciate the most.  While I love listening to writers read from their work, I always feel, as one who gets scant time to just up and leave the house for an evening event, with so many arrangements and droppings-off, I'd rather have the books supplemented.  Generally, I'm pretty content with a Q&A, but this was a lecture and a Q&A, which made me very delighted.

She read her essay "Why Write," which was a meandering exploration of what others might have had to say on the subject, of the art of slow reading, of the roles we play in life and how those interact.  Unfortunately, the essay is not yet published, so I cannot link to it, but I have no doubt that it will be some day.

The room was so hot, and I was so uncomfortable in my seat, I couldn't help but wonder how my son was doing, sloshing around in that broth.  I wrote:

My belly breathes before me.  I am one hitch behind.
I wonder if he, the he inside of me, can hear her.
This is the first time I am conscious of him in this way, how he might hear the world, if he knows (or will know, or will care) that he is somewhere so hot and unbreathable, so magnificent.

While I was having my book signed, we talked about motherhood--she has a three-year-old named Kit and is four months along with her second, which instantly made me feel both wimpy (for being so toasty in my luxurious seat as she was standing on the stage, answering strange questions from the audience--a specific one about what a character was supposed to know on page whatsit, a young man who wanted to get passionate and dialogue--read, argue--about the system failures of education and publishing, particularly for writers of color, people who wanted to know which character was most like her, etc.) and unproductive (look at her, how many beautiful books has she written, and she's on tour for NW and has a toddler and is pregnant and she wrote this fantastically intellectual and funny essay about why we write and our culture and I'm busy reading terrible parenting books and watching Diego).  Once again, Smith's own career has caused me to reflect on my own and hustle me into action.

No comments: