It's easy for me to remember my friendship anniversary with Zadie Smith because we met for the first time the same night I went on my third date with my boyfriend. We met in a dark bar on Lafayette, and, for perspective, I was way more nervous about impressing Zadie than I was about making sure my new paramour liked me. So nervous, in fact, that on the way to see her I used Chapstick as deodorant. I don't think she knows that, and she will find out for the first time here. Ten minutes after leaving her presence I began to vomit. I vomited on and around my then-crush, now life partner. All I could think was, At least it wasn't with Zadie.
But despite her luminous, lit-goddess persona, her throaty laugh, like a character tic Tilda Swinton would invent for a good witch, and her ability to make Asos look like Marni, friendship with Zadie is defined by lowbrow text humor, constant two-way concern, and a deep wisdom. That wisdom would be intimidating if she weren't so willing to share it and so thrilled to question her own right to give it. Zadie is the kind of friend you dream of having in ninth grade — she'll lick her thumb and adjust your eyeliner, but she'll also tell you exactly how the Parliament works. She's a genius, a ride-or-die chick, and the best emailer I know — case in point: this interview. Her new novel, Swing Time, is as soulful as it is crafty.
Lena Dunham: When I talk about you or post a picture of you, readers tend to respond with things like #goals or YAS QUEEN. You're a person (like Beyoncé or Helen Mirren) they feel completely comfortable idolizing for both style and values. I don't mean to make you respond to this because it's embarrassing to be told you're "goals," BUT I think they would be surprised that you found your early twenties, even after finding success, to be a time of wild self-consciousness. It would be easy to assume that being celebrated at a young age or having very great freckles would have cured that. Can you talk a little bit about your experience of being a twenty-something?
Zadie Smith: Honestly, I remember my twenties as a time of work: I wrote my twenties away. When the books came out, I'd get this sense of being a certain kind of person in readers' minds, but it never had much to do with how I felt about myself. Of course, it's nice to be celebrated at any age, and those people who manage to write without any audience or a very small one I consider simply heroic. Writing can be hard, but to write and not be read is painful. So I am always grateful to be read. Still, the relations that really count for me are the intimate ones: friends, family, partner. The possible admiration of people I've never met is too abstract. I know someone can mistake you for #goals on the very same morning you say something unforgivable to your child, argue with your lover, get utterly stuck on a piece of work, cry on the sofa ...
LD: Swing Time is about many things, but one of them is motherhood — the gifts and burdens our mothers bestow. When I first met you, you had one child and seemed pretty pleased with that arrangement. You decided to have a second and make that look easy, too, though I know it's hard and cuts into your ability to Google memes and listen to new music, etc. How much has being a mother changed your experience of writing (and not in the obvious time-management/"Can women have it all?" way)?