“sometimes a writer’s failures are the most distinct part of them.”

i read interviews obsessively, with the gusto of a hungry child. the latest & greatest is zadie smith in harper’s from way back in february of 2011 — that blustery month i would have loved to pass over…

what strikes me most about smith’s approach to criticism is how she is at once generous and sharp, well-read and open-minded. she knows the canon but she sees beyond it; more than anything, she reflects and ruminates on her own process as a critic and as a writer: it is her ability to reflect and revise — that is to say, the ability to grow and transform — which i most deeply value.

why is it that most writers & critics fail to aggressively investigate their own canons and their own book shelves? what is it that is missing from yours? what’s missing from mine? it seems that we become better writers when we are exposed to as wide a range of material as possible — when we are as deeply influenced by shakespeare as we are by mos def… i could rail **for-ever** about the ways in which the american education system priveleges a certain male eurocentric curriculum at the expense of the truly dynamic world of arts & letters that exists out there: and a whole generation of children (and adults) suffers!

… alas.

and some dope quotes, for the black-white-and-green among you:

Yeah, I have a kind of—I just feel suspicious of the idea of pure writing, of something that never embarrasses you, which is completely clean. It’s just, in my experience, writing which is completely clean is writing that has had shorn from it almost everything that’s of interest.

And that another thing I suppose I’m looking for in the books that are sent to Harper’s: people who are able to write genuinely out of their own sensibility, not out of nostalgia, not trying to sound like somebody else, not fearful—people who write frankly, and Geoff’s certainly one of those.
But then again, my instinct is to defend the novels that I love, and to try to see the—sometimes, I said in Changing My Mind, sometimes a writer’s failures are the most distinct part of them, and not just to be thrown away or discarded. It’s kind of what interests me. That might be a vocational defense, because I need to be interested in my own failures. But that engages me, I think.

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