Photo by Peter Foley via WYNC
“Lectures are for academics, churchman, and explorers,” announced a radiant, reticent Zadie Smith at Friday night’s Robert B. Silvers Lecture at the New York Public Library, “and I’m a comic novelist, idiot savant of the humanities. Lecturing is outside my remit.”
“Given the circumstances,” she said–a packed Celeste Bartos Forum, paper rustling, audience murmuring in greedy adoration–“I hope and pray there will be no questions afterwards.”
Smith, self-proclaimed member of the “self conscious generation,” has mastered this sort of deflection, dodging the hero worship that accrues to beautiful, talented young novelists who inspire epic cheers at the mere acknowledgment that she would, in fact, sign books after her lecture. Her topic, “Speaking in Tongues,” was, among other things, a kind of justification for her preferred status as a moving target. “Keeping it real,” she said, “is sort of a prison cell, two by five. It’s too narrow. I just can’t comfortably live there.”
She does, however, continue “on occasion to say ‘wicked’–and to cite Lil Wayne, approvingly. Obama was the hero of her talk–“the man from Dream City,” she called him, after Pauline Kael–but Smith, in her self-deprecatingly described election night get-up, a “silly dress, with a silly posh English voice,” was her own most lasting image.
The talk, in full, is at WYNC.