“It’s a rare piece of critical writing that can contemplate a mystery and deepen our understanding of it without “solving” it. This is criticism with the open-ended power, yet also the ambiguity, of the creative genius from whom it is derived. There is too much in this collection that doesn’t deserve renewed scrutiny; but when Ms. Smith is writing at her best, she is free, unfettered and alive.”
“Zadie Smith has been a vital literary voice since her first novel, White Teeth, became an instant bestseller. [In The Observer,] she answers questions from famous fans, including Teju Cole, Philip Pullman and Sharmaine Lovegrove, and a selection of our readers” — The Observer
Robert Cohen on co-editing a new anthology where established writers discuss their practice and vocation
How did you come to put together The Writer’s Reader?
[Jay Parini, my co-editor, and I] both taught workshops for emerging writers — here at Middlebury, at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, at Iowa and Harvard and elsewhere — for more years than we care to think about, and all that time we’ve been Xeroxing certain essays we love, essays that seem particularly well-suited to providing consolation, instruction, and the muscle of inspiration, not just to the small-w aspect of the practice but to the larger, more long-term, capital-W sense as well. At a certain point it became almost physically painful, not having these essays between covers (especially the ones out of print), not being able to share them in an easy, accessible way. It just seemed somehow stupid and wrong that there was no way to introduce a new generation of writers to Natalia Ginzburg’s piece, say, or Tillie Olsen’s, or Ted Solotaroff’s, or Danilo Kis’ — to name just three of the wiser, more over-arching essays about the writer’s life you’re ever likely to find. (more…)
Bim Adewunmi shares her admiration for the British novelist and essayist:
“Smith, now 40, is a confidently quiet writer – sly and witty and acid sharp – who always draws a world that looks like the real one; it’s a welcome skill set in the often monochrome world of UK publishing. Away from long-form, Smith also writes short stories, interviews and journalism (I urge you to read her warm profile of comedians Key and Peele). But it’s her essays – covering ground from familial loss to comedy, advertising and city living – that I love the best. She’s smart, and she doesn’t hide it.”
Euan Monaghan (LitHub) talks to the American writer, in an interview originally published in Structo Magazine
It’s not hard to see why Ursula K. Le Guin is best known for her early novels. In the space of six years came A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Lathe of Heaven (1971) and The Dispossessed (1974). These books and many others—including Lavinia (2008), an astonishing take on Virgil’s Aeneid—have been a steady influence on authors of the imagination, notably Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, David Mitchell, Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith, who said that “Le Guin writes as well as any non-‘genre’ writer alive.” We talked at Le Guin’s home in Portland, Oregon.