Zadie Smith: ‘I have a very messy and chaotic mind’

Zadie Smith has been a vital literary voice since her first novel, White Teeth, became an instant bestseller. Here she answers questions from famous fans, including Teju Cole, Philip Pullman and Sharmaine Lovegrove, and a selection of our readers

Zadie Smith’s second collection of essays, Feel Free, could be described as a tour through her enthusiasms punctuated with diversions. She writes with equal fervour about Jay-Z’s rapping, which “pours right into your ear like water from a tap”, as about Edward St Aubyn’s “rich, acerbic comedy”. Her early dislike of Joni Mitchell is used as a segue into a discussion of philistinism and taste. A booklet on early Italian masterpieces sparks an examination of the concept of corpses and the unthinkability of death.

Although the subjects may seem wide-ranging, she says, “they always seem very narrow to me. I’m very familiar with what I’m enthusiastic about, and it’s ...

The book that made me a feminist

In the week that feminism was declared word of the year by a dictionary, writers including Margaret Atwood, Mary Beard, Naomi Klein, Kamila Shamsie, Jeanette Winterson and others champion the books that first empowered them

Grimms’ Fairy Tales and all the Andrew Lang collections: there are a lot of intrepid female protagonists to choose from in these folk tales, which I read voraciously. The odds are stacked against them, but they win through. Sometimes they have magical help; sometimes they use common sense, intelligence and disguise, as in “Fitcher’s Bird”, in which a clever girl bests a maiden-stealing wizard.

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Breaking down the barriers – a new chapter in publishing

Authors, agents, activists and publishers on their ideas for improving the prospects for BAME writers

  • Two years ago, we called publishers to account for the glaring lack of diversity in the industry. Have things improved?

I set up as an agent in 2007 and about a quarter of my clients are people of colour. Representing them draws on my experiences of growing up as a second-generation immigrant and wanting to ensure that our culture today reflects all of us. In comparison to five years ago, there is greater receptivity, which is a positive, but more can and needs to be done.

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‘Having a bit of a tinker’: John Clarke, birds, and the daily pleasure of writing

Photographing birds and tinkering with words were two of John Clarke’s favourite pastimes. Here they come together in excerpts from a new book showcasing his body of work

John Clarke loved birds. Spending time in the bush, camera at the ready, bird photography was his favourite pastime, his relaxation, his happy place.

As the late comedian told Australian BirdLife magazine in 2012, birdwatching gave him perspective on the world and acted as a counterpoint to his working life in comedy.

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Best books of 2017 – part two

From moving memoirs to far-reaching fiction, the wonders of science and the lessons of history, novelists, poets and critics pick their best reads of the year

  • Part one: George Saunders, Ali Smith and others share their favourites
  • Nominate your books of the year in the comments below

Anything is Possible; Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

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