Eat, Drink & Be Literary: Zadie Smith

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Zadie Smith treats guests to a reading of her short story, Two Men Arrive In  A Village

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sit in the same room with one of your favorite authors and just listen to them talk for an hour about pretty much anything?  Well my chance came to glorious fruition when I attended “Eat, Drink & Be Literary” at Brooklyn Academy of Music (which I’ll be calling “BAM” for the rest of the article), now in its twelfth year.

The series, which features dinner, drinks and the chance to ask your favorite author your most burning question, is one that until last week, I had never attended thanks to various work/life constraints.  But this year seems to be one full of surprises and was absolutely thrilled when I was extended a pass.  Zadie Smith has been one of my favorite authors for a long time now and I have followed her career ever since reading her first novel, White Teeth.

The event, which was held at BAMcafé, was no shoddy shindig.  At the top of the escalator stood a row of friendly people ready to take my coat and tuck it away for safe-keeping and answer any questions I may have had.  Because of a last minute work thing, I missed dinner, but from what guests at my table told me, it was delicious.  The meal was created by BAMcafé’s Executive Chef Tsering Nyima and consisted of Pan Seared Salmon with Lemon Beurre Blanc (the recipe of which was included in the event program) and Slow Roasted Chicken with Whole Grain Mustard Sauce.  There were also carafes of Pinot Grigio and Malbec and assorted cookies and brownies for dessert (which, thankfully, I was able to sample), along with coffee and tea.  The tables were communal so guests could enjoy their meal and possibly meet a new friend (I met several).  There was also wonderful live music played by jazz musicians Matt Parker and Steve Whipple.

When I arrived at BAM, I have to admit I was more than a bit excited.  What would Zadie Smith be like?  Is she funny?  Cranky?  Condescending?  I would find out soon enough.  Once dinner was over, the lights were dimmed, introductions were made and, before I knew it, Zadie Smith was on stage in all her glory.  She was suffering from a head cold, but still managed to be amazing.  She read from an unpublished short story called Two Men Arrive in a Village, which was a harrowing tale of what happens when violence comes to a small village.  The story, which could have taken place anywhere in the world, was very different from what Mrs. Smith usually writes.  She admitted that for a long time, she stayed away from violence in her work because it was something she never really understood.  But with the climate of the world as it is today, the author has made a more conscious effort to truly pay attention and write more about violence.  The story she read did deal with violence, but it was always in the periphery, except for one scene where readers were faced with a violent act head-on.

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Zadie Smith and Lorin Stein engage in a stimulating conversation

After reading, Mrs. Smith had a quite engaging conversation with The Paris Review Editor Lorin Stein (who himself is a very funny and interesting person).  Mr. Stein asked questions that kept the conversation moving forward, with no awkward lulls or silly attempts at witty banter.  Instead, guests were treated to a thoughtful insight into what makes Mrs. Smith tick as a writer and as a person.  After, guests were invited to ask questions, which many did.  When asked about her writing process, Mrs. Smith stated she does not like to plan what she writes, but instead does it using her instincts.  I, for one, can tell you that the results of her writing style have created works that are unlike any other writer.  Once the talk and Q&A were done, Mrs. Smith took the time for a little book signing, much to the guests’ delight.

As for the series, it was clearly a huge success, as evidenced by the guests I spoke to after it was all over.  One guest I spoke to, who has been attending the series for years, said that she always enjoys the events and hasn’t been disappointed yet.  Her friend, who was a newbie like me, said she planned to attend more events in the series.  I plan to do the same.

There are still a few more events left in this year’s series, including Sally Mann and Yiyun Li.  For more information about “Eat, Drink & Be Literary” and to purchase tickets, click here.

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