Engaged in Writing

Zadie Smith read from her new novel On Beauty last night in Brookline. I'm in the middle of reading the book at the moment but because of work it's taking me a long time. As on other occasions when I've listened to her read, she brought each of her characters to life vividly at the microphone, emphasizing slight intonations in her American characters' voices. The scene she read from took place on the Boston Common and included a hilarious anecdote about the notion of "street" in hip-hop culture.

Answering questions in the large theater where she read, Smith mentioned her respect for the art of criticism, citing Edmund Wilson and Virginia Woolf. She said On Beauty was primarily concerned with class. And of course, in the US, class is indissolubly connected to our experience and conception of race. Her use of hip-hop in all three of her novels (I tend to think of her as a hip-hop novelist) is partly a generational characteristic. But I also think it reflects an awareness of the centrality of race in our age. The awareness that race remains a problem and that, no matter how much liberals or conservatives avoid the issue, race must be addressed in writing. Du Bois dixit.


I came across two used books in excellent condition this afternoon at Commonwealth Books.

Stephen Spender, Engaged in Writing (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1958).
José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Antología poética (Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 1969).

Spender's book includes two novellas written in mid-career, after WWII. The José Antonio Ramos Sucre (1890-1929) anthology is edited by the poet Francisco Pérez Perdomo, who also writes a lucid introduction to the book. Although I've glanced at him before, I hadn't read Ramos Sucre's poems closely until today. I was surprised to notice how much Juan Sánchez Peláez had actually borrowed from him, in terms of tone and the use of concise, angular words.

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