2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Documentary Now Available To Stream

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“Cleveland has always been incredibly nice to me,” novelist Zadie Smith said as she took the podium at Case Western Reserve University. Her last visit to Northeast Ohio was back in 2006, when she was on hand to accept the Anisfield-Wolf prize for fiction for her third novel, On Beauty.

This year, Smith was the first author to appear at Writers Center Stage, a literary series sponsored by the Cuyahoga County Public Library and Case Western Reserve University. Clad in a tan blazer and jeans, Smith began her talk, entitled, “Why Write? Creativity and Refusal.” The title borrows from George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Why I Write.”

Smith, 38, told the audience that she appreciates the wisdom that comes with experience. “I much prefer writing at this age than when I was 24,” she said. Her debut novel, White Teeth, was published when she was 23.

Smith’s talk focused on the overwhelming trend of writers striving to become megabrands and conflating popularity with significance. “Most of my time with students is spent trying to press upon them the idea that creativity is about something more than finding the perfect audience for the perfect product,” Smith said. “To my mind, a true ‘creative’ should not simply seek to satisfy a pre-existing demand but instead transform our notion of what it is we want.”

Some of the best creative writing can be found in hip-hop, Smith says, but now, looking at artists like Kanye West and the L.A. rap collective Odd Future, rap music has become less about the message and more about the “branding opportunities.”

Smith, who teaches creative writing at New York University, tells her students that the reality of the publishing industry has changed. “I have to ask them sometimes, ‘Why do you think all the writers you admire are teaching in this building?’ A day job is a day job and historically writers have always had one,” Smith said, adding that her father had aspirations of becoming a photographer. Instead, for years he held a job folding and distributing pieces of direct mail “that you toss in the rubbish bin as soon as you get them.”

Earlier in the day, Smith spoke with a more intimate audience of university faculty and students for a free-flowing session about the writing process. “My experience with writing is writing sentences,” she said plainly. “What I’m thinking of is different kinds of sentences. It’s very hard for a writer to fool themselves about what they’re doing.”

Smith recently attended the PEN awards in New York where she presented the Lifetime Achievement prize to Louise Erdrich, a 2009 Anisfield-Wolf winner. What struck her, she said, was how many male winners mentioned their children as they accepted their awards. “Fathers are more involved now than they’ve ever been in the course of human history,” she said. “Dickens had 10 children. Tolstoy had 13. But they weren’t helping to raise them. This shift is going to change how we write, what we produce.”

Her writing process is informed by the realities of her life. A mother of two small children, she commits five hours a day to write at the library, and she brings her lunch with her to avoid wasting time. “Some writers say they won’t stop for the day until they’ve written 5,000 words,” she said. “But I couldn’t do that. It would be a cycle of failure.”

Instead, Smith said she fights the profound anxiety of a writer’s life and uses it to her advantage. “I wrote an essay that will be published soon about the advertisement that I can see from my apartment, because I literally never leave the house,” she said. “Some writers can go to Africa, traveling all over the world. But you have to do what you can with what you have and make the most of it.”

Novelists Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – both Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners — displayed a warm, comfortable familiarity on stage for their recent appearance at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

Fresh off Adichie’s National Book Critics Circle win for “Americanah,” her novel about “love, race and hair,” the conversation between the two literary lionesses veered from the amusing to the insightful. Watch the duo discuss Adichie’s fascination with race and class, the absurdity of romance novels, and Beyonce.

We’re always delighted to read a new piece from 2006 winner Zadie Smith’s mind, as she is one of our favorite authors in the modern age. It’s kind of blasphemous for us to declare we have a favorite (after all, isn’t it like saying, out loud, that you have a favorite child?) but it’s true that Zadie Smith is at the top of our list. (Don’t worry, our list is very wide at the top.) 

Her newest piece is an easy read in the New Yorker, called “The Embassy of Cambodia.” Here’s a sneak peek:

Who would expect the Embassy of Cambodia? Nobody. Nobody could have expected it, or be expecting it. It’s a surprise, to us all. The Embassy of Cambodia!

Next door to the embassy is a health center. On the other side, a row of private residences, most of them belonging to wealthy Arabs (or so we, the people of Willesden, contend). They have Corinthian pillars on either side of their front doors, and—it’s widely believed—swimming pools out back. The embassy, by contrast, is not very grand. It is only a four- or five-bedroom North London suburban villa, built at some point in the thirties, surrounded by a red brick wall, about eight feet high. And back and forth, cresting this wall horizontally, flies a shuttlecock. They are playing badminton in the Embassy of Cambodia. Pock, smash. Pock, smash.

The only real sign that the embassy is an embassy at all is the little brass plaque on the door (which reads, “the embassy of cambodia”) and the national flag of Cambodia (we assume that’s what it is—what else could it be?) flying from the red tiled roof. Some say, “Oh, but it has a high wall around it, and this is what signifies that it is not a private residence, like the other houses on the street but, rather, an embassy.” The people who say so are foolish. Many of the private houses have high walls, quite as high as the Embassy of Cambodia’s—but they are not embassies.

Want to finish the story? Keep reading here. To accompany the short story the New Yorker also did a quick Q&A with Mrs. Smith – here’s one snippet on her writing process: 

When I’m writing everything is basically spontaneous. I don’t keep a journal or make notes or plan. I have a vague idea one day, sometimes a tone, or a single image—like the embassy—and even if I don’t really know why it’s stuck with me, it’s interesting (to me) that it has stuck. And then if the idea or image hangs around for long enough—weeks, or months—I sit down and try to write it out and see what it’s about.

 

 

 

Slate.com book editor Dan Kois, DoubleX editor Hanna Rosin, and Brow Beat editor David Haglund sat down for a Slate Audio Book Club podcast to discuss Zadie Smith’s newest book, “NW,” which was recently named one of the best books of 2012 by the New York Times.

Listen to the entire audio book club podcast here, where the editors discuss the “Google-ability” of the book and comparisons to Ulysses.

Penguin USA has uploaded a few videos of in honor of Zadie Smith’s new book NW. We thought you would enjoy.

In an extremely heated election season, sometimes it’s worth taking a moment to breathe. With millions being spent in ads on both sides, it’s clear that messaging is powerful in terms of getting people to vote for your side. But has the rhetoric gotten nastier? Are we seeing a new “low” in campaign ads or is this just the nature of politics?

Historian Jill Lepore (2006 Anisfield-Wolf award winner) explored the history of presidential campaigns at the 2012 New Yorker festival. In the short clip, she compares an ad from the 2008 election to a campaign ad from 1800. Can you name a few differences? Watch the clip and see. 

When Zadie Smith comes out with a new novel after a multiyear hiatus, it’s news. Not just to the literary junkies who have devoured her earlier works, On Beauty, The Autograph Man, and White Teeth, but to folks who want to see if the “Zadie mania” is worth the hype.

And indeed it is. Her latest novel, NW, has received positive reviews from critics and casual readers alike.

She’s been hitting the promotion trail hard to get this book to the top of the bestseller lists and a recent profile in Interview magazine (along with a stunning photo of Ms. Smith) caught our eye. In it, she discusses the pressure of writing novels when your first (as a 22-year-old) is a smash success.

If I’m honest with you, I feel that this book is the first book that I’ve really written as an adult,” she explains. “For a lot of people this would be their first novel. I’m 36. It happens that I wrote three books as a very young person….Your mid-thirties is a good time because you know a fair amount, you have some self-control. I knew my own mind a bit more. And I stopped trying to please people.”

Well said.

Read the whole interview here.

Have we worn you down? Has our incessant posting about Zadie Smith’s latest novel sparked just enough curiosity for you to at least pick up the book next week and read a few pages in the bookstore? You could do that, or you could watch the video above and hear Zadie Smith read it for you.

 

Penguin Press, Zadie Smith’s publisher, is offering readers a sneak peek at her latest novel over on its Facebook page. We’re not sure how long it will be available, so if you’re interested, go read it today!

The reviews for NW are already trickling in and we really like this write-up from the Washington Post, even if it’s not the typical glowing four-star review:

The Washington Post’s Ron Charles writes:

“You either submit to Smith’s eclectic style or you set this book aside in frustration. At times, reading “NW” is like running past a fence, catching only strips of light from the scene on the other side. Smith makes no accommodation for the distracted reader — or even the reader who demands a clear itinerary. But if you’re willing to let it work on you, to hear all these voices and allow the details to come into focus when Smith wants them to, you’ll be privy to an extraordinary vision of our age.”

Do reviews like this make you want to read it more or less? Will you be picking up a copy of “NW” when it hits bookshelves in September? 

The press keeps coming for Zadie Smith, as her latest book, NW, will be hitting bookshelves in September. An excerpt from her latest book appeared in The New Yorker recently and Smith gave an open and honest interview about her writing process and her desire to have characters that are diverse. But there was one quote in particular that made us pause:

Every time I write a sentence I’m thinking not only of the people I ended up in college with but my siblings, my family, my school friends, the people from my neighborhood. I’ve come to realize that this is an advantage, really: it keeps you on your toes.

And it seems clear to me that these little varietals of voice and lifestyle (bad word, but I can’t think of another) are fundamentally significant. They’re not just decoration on top of a life; they’re the filter through which we come to understand the world.

Is it clear now why we awarded Ms. Smith the 2006 award for fiction? This quote clearly touches upon all the elements of the Anisfield-Wolf Awards. We appreciate the differences in cultures because they are truly what makes the world such a rich place to be.

Read the entire interview here and follow Zadie Smith on Facebook for more updates on her work.

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Can’t Have It All” article has re-ignited the conversation about working mothers and their quest to obtain balance in all areas of their lives. Some argue that Slaughter’s perspective (as a former State Department employee turned tenured Princeton professor) reeks of privilege, while others simply admit that she makes valid points about the difficulty of proving yourself both on the job and in your home. 

The Wall Street Journal caught up with 2006 Anisfield-Wolf winner Zadie Smith at the Book Expo and talked to her a bit about how she sees her career these days, as she has a two-and-a-half year old daughter and an upcoming book to promote. How does she balance the two? 

Smith said: 

It’s not always easy but I think one way you can make it easier is just doing the essential things and nothing else. I’m not in a great passion to run around the country for three weeks, you know? I’d rather be at home.

But actually writing fits fairly well with motherhood. I’m in the house all the time, which helps. You can set your hours. I suppose the hard thing for a child is the sense that your mother is often thinking about something else. In the downtime between novels you have to demonstrate that you’re also thinking of your family. I’m trying to do it now.

Read the rest of the interview here

Our “New On The Bookshelf” series highlights new works from past Anisfield-Wolf authors. 

It’s a question many of us don’t like to think about that often: What happens when we die? But 2006 nonfiction winner Jill Lepore’s new book takes it a step further, analyzing our role in creating life—and death. In her new book, The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death, Lepore takes what could be an austere topic and infuses it with lots of surprises along the way. Lepore’s book couldn’t be more timely, particularly in today’s political climate, where debates over health care, birth control and abortion often take center stage.

In an interview with Newsday, Lepore discusses why this type of book is important:

There’s been a massive change in our orientation from looking for answers in the past to looking for answers in the future. We subscribe to this scientific, linear narrative of progress: Whatever is difficult about growing older, or dying, or raising children, will be solved at some future point. We subscribe to this notion so wholly that we forget this way of thinking is new. I try to pull back and show what’s lost when we don’t look backward; I think there is wisdom to be found in the study of how people long before us wrestled with these questions.

Read the rest of the interview here.

In the video above, Jill Lepore tackles the meaning of life (a modest topic, she says dryly) in a recent talk at Harvard. “Most questions about life and death have no answers, including notably these three: How does life begin? What does it mean? What happens when we die? No one has ever answered these questions and no one ever will. But everyone tries. Trying is the human condition. And history is the chronicle of the asking.”

Some of our very own Anisfield-Wolf winners will be in attendance at the 2012 Book Expo at the Javits Center in New York City, June 5-7. The Book Expo is one of the largest events in the literary field, with authors, librarians, editors, and other industry professionals in attendance each year. Among the authors will be 2008 winner Junot Diaz and 2006 winner Zadie SmithClick here for ticket information.

Junot Díaz

Junot Diaz

Tuesday, June 5
Adult Book & Author Breakfast
8:00 am – 9:30 am
Special Events Hall

 

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith 

Thursday, June 7
Adult Book & Author Breakfast
8:00 am – 9:30 am
Special Events Hall

In the music industry, there is always a collective sigh of relief when an artist releases a work after an absence—and the work is as good as (or better than) their previous efforts. Same is true for authors.

Zadie Smith has not released a novel since 2005’s On Beauty and the literary world has been waiting for her return. In March it was announced that her fourth novel, titled NW, would be released in September. We dug around for a description and found what sounds like a great book:

From BlackBook:

“Somewhere in Northwest London stands Caldwell housing estate, relic of 70s urban planning. Five identical blocks, deliberately named: Hobbes, Smith, Bentham, Locke, and Russell. If you grew up here, the plan was to get out and get on, to something bigger, better.

Thirty years later ex-Caldwell kids Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan have all made it out, with varying degrees of succes—whatever that means. Living only streets apart, they occupy separate worlds and navigate an atomized city where few wish to be their neighbor’s keeper. Then one April afternoon a stranger comes to Leah’s door seeking help, disturbing the peace, and forcing Leah out of her isolation…”

What do you think? Will you be reading it in a few months? What’s your favorite Zadie Smith work to date? 

We enjoy a good list just as much as the next person, and even more so when it comes to advice for writers. We’re an interesting bunch, full of quirks and idiosyncrasies, and doubts and fears and ambition. We devour information and try to spit out prose. So when we came across this bunch of tips from Zadie Smith, we decided that yes, we needed to share it with you.

From The Guardian:

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  3. Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
  4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

Each week, we’ll be helping you to get to know our winners better (what a great bunch they are) and highlighting the best of their work, interviews and essays. This week we’ll be sharing the best of Zadie Smith with you, our 2006 winner for fiction. 

We celebrated Zadie Smith’s work in 2006 after the release of her third book, On Beauty. A powerful story about cultural differences and conservative values, On Beauty has also won the Orange Prize for Fiction. In the video below, Smith reads a section of her novel during the PEN World Voices Festival.

Jill Lepore doesn’t think so. As part of a series of discussions sponsored by the Center for Civil Discourse at the University of Massachusetts, the 2006 Anisfield-Wolf winner shares her thoughts on whether our society is more or less civil than any other period in society.

Junot Díaz

Junot Diaz’s short story collection This Is How You Lose Her will be published in September. It’s Diaz’s first book since his 2007 debut novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which, in addition to the 2008 Anisfield-Wolf award for fiction, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Critics Circle Award. {New York Times}

Zadie Smith

It hasn’t been officially confirmed but the rumor mill is buzzing that Zadie Smith’s latest book will be released in September. No doubt fans of White Teeth and On Beauty are waiting anxiously. {Sarah Weinman}

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s 10th novel, Home, will be released May 8. It follows an African American Korean war veteran who returns to his Georgia community a changed man. {L.A. Times}