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Zadie Smith On Writing Through Protests And The Pandemic (Rebroadcast)

Zadie Smith's latest collection of essays is called "Intimations."
Zadie Smith's latest collection of essays is called "Intimations."

2020 is devastating. From the coronavirus pandemic to the civil unrest over systemic racism, there’s a palpable sense of dread and anxiety almost everywhere. Some have tried to analyze all the ways our world has changed since February due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But in the case of George Floyd’s killing and the ongoing protests against police brutality, others are reflecting on the ways our world has stayed entirely the same.

While we should expect a slew of historical and political analysis in the following years, writer Zadie Smith offers something more personal in her new essay collection, “Intimations.” The book contains six pieces on our current moment.

Ericka Taylor reviewed the collection for NPR Books:

Even though Smith has long split her time between New York and London and has taught in the U.S. for over a decade, she retains an outsider’s capacity to observe the country from afar. This perspective is perhaps most evident in “The American Exception.” In it, Smith quotes the president’s yearning for the good old days when “we [Americans] didn’t have death.” She doesn’t mark that statement as an obvious falsehood, however, drawing a distinction between the dead and death. “We had dead people,” she notes, “We had casualties and we had victims. But, in America, all of these involved some culpability on the part of the dead.” Not so with “the kind of death that comes to us all, irrespective of position.”

Smith’s initial assumptions about “the democratic nature of plague” are ultimately, she decides, inaccurate. She concludes the essay recognizing that the pandemic would not, in fact, be the great equalizer, coming to rich and poor alike. In the end, “American hierarchies, hundreds of years in the making, are not so easily overturned. Black and Latino people are now dying at twice the rate of white and Asian people. More poor people are dying than rich. The virus map of the New York boroughs turn redder along precisely the same lines as it would if the relative shade of crimson counted not infection and death but income brackets and middle-school ratings.”

We’re talking to Zadie Smith about her latest work.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5

Haili Blassingame