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Zadie Smith has an uncommon ability to tell stories that capture our hearts. But she’s also shown herself to be a very self-aware writer. Whenever she reflects on the craft and life of writing, she has the most inspiring and insightful things to say.

In a comment made during a recent interview published on elle.com, Smith says that the hectic life of motherhood has somehow found its way into writing. Motherhood has injected a kind of brevity into her work.

Motherhood for me was at first a kind of displacement. It forced me, at least partially, into a secondary position in my own life. Even the simple biological recognition that my daughter is on the way in and I am unavoidably on the way out. And time-wise, it made me very impatient of wasting any. Even my sentences have the stench of motherhood upon them. I haven’t the time for elaborate metaphors! I want to get to the point—to be understood.

Being a parent is a life-changing experience. But it can take up all of ones time and emotional resources, leaving little or nothing left for the demanding labor of writing. For Smith, it appears that the time-consuming pains and pleasures of Motherhood are simply translated into a stylistic sensibility that excludes unnecessary frills and floweriness.

Last year, Zambia writer Namwali Serpell makes a similar link between women’s writing and brevity. In an interview published right after she won the Caine Prize for African Writing, she says:

I think the short story is especially available to women. I’m not saying we should only write short stories, but there’s something about its brevity that is amenable to womens’ lives…Women are not always given a room of their own or long spates of their time on their own in which they can write.

It looks like both Serpell and Smith are suggesting that real-world conditions of women’s lives sometimes define how they craft stories. The realities of women’s lives show up in their writing not as theme or subject matter but as stylistic element and narrative form. A feminine literary style? Fascinating idea! What do you all think?

 

 

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Image of Zadie Smith by David Shankbone via Wikipedia

Image of Namwali Serpell via Wikipedia

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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