Lecture Hop: Pabst and Zadie Smith(s)
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog’s Spirits-and-Scrolls Correspondent Anna Kelner attended a reading at the Ding Dong Lounge by author Zadie Smith.
Provided with the opportunity to luxuriate under dimly lit chandeliers, splurge on a $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon, and hear one of Granta’s best 20 young authors of 2003 read from an unpublished novel, MFA students tore themselves away from their laptops on Wednesday evening to hear Zadie Smith (and, of course, five aspiring Zadie Smiths from the MFA program) read at Ding Dong Lounge.
Smith is best known for her novel White Teeth, which was included by Time Magazine in its list of 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005, among other honors. The novel highlights the immigrant experience in England with Smith’s trademark humor and keen understanding of character. Globalized, urban, and innovative, she stands as a writer of the modern world. And if there’s one bar that stands for the modern world, it’s the Ding Dong Lounge.
Five MFA students read their work before Smith, pieces that ranged from starkly poetic to self-consciously digressive. Rachel Riederer began with an essay on her kitten’s string-eating habits; Garrett McDonough, an Irishman whom the presenter claimed was a Nigerian prince tragically “unable to access his rightful inheritance,” followed with a tongue-in-cheek essay on homelessness and finding fame in a cold Los Angeles winter; Julie Limbaugh shared two vignettes on Cuban men; Ben Pease read definitely American poems on milkshakes and cross-country road trips; Katherine Morris concluded with the tale of a love-struck, fatherless Southern girl. Knowing laughter followed each speaker, suggesting the audience’s closeness and transforming the room into one, big, Joyce-loving family.
Zadie Smith concluded the evening, slinking up to the microphone in an elegant red turban and high heels. She shared an excerpt from an unfinished novel about two socially distinct women from London’s projects who meet and share an uncanny spiritual connection. She told the tale of Char, an abused, impoverished housewife who, driven to desperation, knocks at the door of Lear, a more educated, urbane woman. As she read, Smith’s voice seemed to pulsate, lending the story a tense excitement. Smith’s prose was far more poetic than the colloquial style exhibited in White Teeth, and her calm, focused tone highlighted its elegance. Smith’s reading also showed an intimate knowledge of her characters; she kept the narrator’s voice to deliver Lear’s speech, perhaps suggesting the latter character’s closeness to Smith, but slipped into a Cockney accent to capture Char’s hardened tongue.
Smith’s characters may come alive on the page, but hearing her read their story with an energy and eloquence that few writers exhibit in person made the trip to Ding Dong more than worthwhile.