Tag Archives: Zadie Smith


Robert Silvers was a brilliant, demanding, funny, painstaking, and inspiring editor, a walking chronicle of postwar literary-political history, an intimidating sweetheart, and very dear to me. At the end of an editorial session, once he had identified all your piece’s weaknesses, evasions, and missed opportunities, he would close with a brusque, even peremptory, but always, somehow, hopeful, “See what can be done.” In the world according to Silvers, there was always something to be done. — Michael Chabon

The New York Review of Books was founded in 1963 by Barbara Epstein, Jason Epstein, and their West 67th Street neighbors Elizabeth Hardwick and Robert Lowell during an extended newspaper strike in New York City. They asked their friend Robert Silvers to edit the broadsheet—and he agreed, if Barbara would join him as co-editor.

The Review was an immediate success, and during first decades published Mary McCarthy on Vietnam, James Baldwin (“An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis”), Isaiah Berlin, Hannah Arendt, Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Richard Hofstadter, Edmund Wilson, Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky, I. F. Stone, W. H. Auden, and many more. Today, Zadie Smith, Yasmine El Rashidi, Zoë Heller, Janet Malcolm, Hilton Als, Darryl Pinckney, James Fenton, Colm Tóibín, and Daniel Mendelsohn continue the intellectual tradition.

Before Silvers died in 2017, Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi filmed the editor in his domain. The resulting film—THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT, narrated by Michael Stahlbarg—documents the history of the paper with in-person interviews and a rich selection of clips. The film is available through HBO Max and is streaming free in September, courtesy of the Review.

See link below.


Directed by Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi.

Now streaming.

From top: Barbara Epstein and Robert Silvers in 1963 in their first office in the Fisk Building, New York City, photograph by Gert Berliner, courtesy and © the photographer and The New York Review of Books; David Moore, Mary McCarthy, New York, 1956, courtesy and © the photographer and the National Portrait Gallery, Australia; The New York Review of Books, May 25, 2017; Gore Vidal (center) with John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy; Nina Simone and James Baldwin, early 1960s, photograph by Bernard Gotfryd, courtesy and © the photographer’s estate and the Library of Congress Collection; Isaiah Berlin (left) and Silvers, photograph by Dominique Nabokov, courtesy and © the photographer; Darryl Pinckney in London, 1991, photograph by Nabokov; Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi, The 50 Year Argument (2014), image courtesy and © HBO Documentary Films; W. H. Auden; Joan Didion, photograph by Jill Krementz, courtesy and © the photographer; Francine du Plessix Gray and Silvers, photograph by Nabokov, courtesy and © the photographer.


The experience [of moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Alabama] shaped me in a way no other locale would have; I became more adept in detecting the shades of my otherness in various spaces—more privy to the subtleties of privilege and prejudice as well as language. This helped me become more acutely aware of the implications of selfhood and how context defines and shifts one’s sense of purpose and belonging. I desperately needed to understand what this meant and how best to articulate it for myself, to be more informed and prepared for what was now my life. I wasn’t a natural writer and miscalculations were a constant. However, in the realm of the visual I found a home, and that has been my way of understanding the world onward. — Toyin Ojih Odutola

Toyin Ojih Odutola’s first exhibition in Britain—A COUNTERVAILING THEORY, now on view at the Barbican—is “an exploration of social hierarchies and the consequences of transgressing power dynamics. The story unravels across the 90-meter stretch of the gallery, each of the forty new works [pastel, charcoal, and chalk drawings on linen] charting an episode, akin to a graphic novel writ large on the walls.”*

For this Barbican commission, the artist collaborated with conceptual sound artist Peter Adjaye to create “an immersive soundscape that evolves throughout the space as the story unfolds.”* The exhibition catalog includes a new essay by Zadie Smith and an interview with the artist by exhibition curator Lotte Johnson.


Through January 24, 2021.

The Curve—Barbican Centre

Silk Street, Barbican, London.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, A Countervailing Theory, Barbican Art Gallery, August 11, 2020–January 11, 2021, from top: Semblance of Certainty, 2019; A Parting Gift; His and Hers, Only, 2019; Introductions: Early Embodiment, 2019; To See and To Know; Future Lovers, 2019; Ojih Odutola, A Countervailing Theory exhibition catalog (2), inside view and cover image, courtesy and © the artist, Zadie Smith, Barbican Art Gallery, and Jack Shainman Gallery. Images courtesy and © the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.


[Celia Paul’s] story is striking. It is not, as has been assumed, the tale of a muse who later became a painter, but an account of a painter who, for ten years of her early life, found herself mistaken for a muse, by a man who did that a lot. [Self-Portrait] is about many things besides [Lucian] Freud: her mother, her childhood, her sisters, her paintings. But she neither rejects her past with Freud nor rewrites it, placing present ideas and feelings alongside diary entries and letters she wrote as a young woman, a generous, vulnerable strategy that avoids the usual triumphalism of memoir. For Paul, the self is continuous (“I have always been, and I remain at nearly sixty, the same person I was as a teenager…. This simple realisation seems to me to be complex and profoundly liberating”), and equal weight is given to “the vividness of the past and the measured detachment of the present.” — Zadie Smith, 2019

Landscapes and portraiture—self- and otherwise—are the focus of an exhibition of paintings by Celia Paul, who has just published an extensively illustrated memoir.


Through December 20.

Victoria Miro Gallery II

16 Wharf Road, London.


2019, Jonathan Cape.

Celia Paul, from top: Self-Portrait, Early Summer, 2018, oil on canvas; Self-Portrait, 1983, ink on paper; Kate in White, Spring, 2018 (detail), oil on canvas; Room and Tower, 2019, oil on canvas; 2016 photograph of Paul in her London studio by Gautier Deblonde; My Sisters in Mourning, 2015–16, oil on canvas; Last Light on the Sea, 2016; Celia Paul, Self-Portrait (2019), cover image courtesy and © Jonathan Cape; Lucian and Me, 2019, oil on canvas; Painter and Model, 2012, oil on canvas. Images courtesy and © the artist, the photographers, Jonathan Cape, and Victoria Miro.


This week, the poet, novelist, and screenwriter Nick Laird will read from his 2018 collection of poems, FEEL FREE.

(Which is also the title of the recent essay collection by Zadie Smith, who is married to Laird.)

A reception and book signing will follow.


Thursday, May 16, at 7:30 pm.

Hammer Museum

10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.

From top: Nick Laird, image courtesy and © the author and the Hammer Museum; book cover image courtesy and © Faber & Faber; Laird and Zadie Smith at The New Yorker Festival, 2017, courtesy and © the authors and photographer.



“Recently I wrote a note to accompany Paul Eprile’s translation of Jean Giono’s MELVILLE, which quickly evolved into a novel that has nothing to do with the historical neurasthenic and queer-leaning Herman Melville and everything to do with Giono himself.

“Giono was deeply influenced by American writers… [He] first discovered Walt Whitman in French [and] later studied the ‘American Homer’ in English. He loved Whitman’s all-embracing egalitarianism and his pantheism, and the first part of Giono’s œuvre obviously owes a debt to this passionate revolutionary figure. In Hill, his first novel, Giono tried to illustrate two very Whitmanesque truths:

‘The first of these truths is that there are people, simple and nude; the other is that this earth fleeced [entoisonnée] with woods… this living earth, exists without literature.’

“Cutting down on metaphor and simile (he could never altogether forego them) must have been painful for Giono, so naturally gifted with that kind of eloquence. As Aristotle suggest in The Rhetoric, metaphor is one of the greatest ornaments of writing but also the one no one can learn.” — Edmund White, The Unpunished Vice

White’s blend of memoir and literary criticism is out now.



Top image credit: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Above: Edmund White and Zadie Smith at a writers’ festival in Florence, 2017. Image credit: Édouard Louis‘ Twitter.

Below, from left: Bernard Buffet, Jean Giono, and Pierre Bergé in Manosque, June 16, 1950. Image credit: Musée Yves Saint Laurent, Paris.