Zadie Smith in Conversation with Michael Chabon


The other day I was looking up a reading for the spring at UCLA and saw that two days later Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon would be together for an evening. My first reaction was disappointment, since I had nothing to do with Sawyer (it started at 8, which means that I'd have to leave by 5:30 to fight seventy miles in the horrible LA traffic- my husband usually comes home around 7:15). I then mentioned it to Scott and, knowing how important seeing these two would be to me, suggested I drop Sawyer off at his office with the iPad for the last part of his work day. DONE. Traffic ended up being worse than normal, since a few big rigs decided to overturn, so I had to leave at 5:10 and ended up getting to UCLA at 7:40. Sigh. It's the price we pay to live down here, I guess.

The event was at Royce Hall, which is absolutely beautiful and one of the buildings I had class in once upon a time in my youth. The political and social rhetoric of those emceeing the event were just what you'd expect for an arts program at a UC, something the audience obviously appreciated- I definitely had a "I'm home!" kind of moment. Once Smith and Chabon came out they agreed to put off talking about the general horrible-ness that is the US as long as possible, which ended up being a solid thirty minutes or so.

Chabon mentioned that this was the fifth time the two had participated in an event like this one, which is explained their natural chemistry and knowledge of one another (sometimes when it's just local moderator it's a bit awkward if the proper research and pre-interview conversation haven't happened). The two spent awhile talking about what they were reading and the role of the historical novel, since they are both reading older books and she is writing one right now (despite not being very fond of them). The topic of conversation then turned to the internet and how it's such a huge weight on them both, especially in the current climate. Smith talked about how she read something about Trump on a plane the other day and then spent hours just reading comments and articles that validated her opinion. They then contrasted escaping into the internet with escaping into books, which I could have listened to for five hours. 

The two took some questions that had been pre-written by the audience, which asked about the importance of places to them in real life and in their works (something I then started reflecting personally on), cultural appropriation, inspiration (Smith made a comment on how she takes things from her own life, puts then into her novels, and then ends up being incredibly tired of them, like tap dancing), and writing dialogue (the both downplayed it's importance and even said it can be used as a "crutch"). 

I must say, that this was definitely one of the best events I have ever been to, and there are have been many. I thought that Chabon might come off as a bit pretentious, since I've gotten that vibe from him through his writing before. I wasn't sure what Smith would be like, but maybe a little intimidating because she's just so damn brilliant. Instead I fell in love a little more, listening to her talk about going to dinner with her husband and kids and feeling like a circus act since none of them were on their phones and were trying to entertain and corral the whole time (I have a no device policy at dinner for my kid too, so I was like "I get you, Zadie!"). They were fantastic. 


  1. This sounds fantastic! It’s so awesome that it all worked out for you to be able to go. I haven’t read anything by either of these authors, but it still sounds fascinating.

  2. I was there too! You should join the Los Angeles Book Bloggers group I started on facebook because I'm trying to post events like this as they come up on there. It's really a place for any LA book blogger to share events like this as they find out about them, so we can all be in the loop. It was such a great event and then on Friday I also went to the Skirball to see Isabelle Allende speak, which, if possible was even better! So amazing! I'll be putting up posts on each event this coming week or the week after!