Award-winning novelist Zadie Smith defends Camden’s libraries at Swiss Cottage talk

Zadie Smith reads from her new book NW at Swiss Cottage Library. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Zadie Smith reads from her new book NW at Swiss Cottage Library. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Award-winning novelist and former Camden schoolgirl Zadie Smith returned to the borough last week to talk about her latest book in a rare public appearance.

Ms Smith read a short passage from NW – which explores the lives of four friends in north-west London – to a captive audience at Swiss Cottage Library before opening up about her school years at Hampstead School, Cricklewood, life in the US, and her love of libraries.

Ms Smith, who is now based in New York but grew up near Queen’s Park and still has a house there, accidentally revealed on the night that her next book would be a science-fiction novel but that she has yet to write any of it.

Speaking rapidly in conversation with Evening Standard journalist Richard Godwin, Ms Smith praised the “fantastic” facilities at the library in Avenue Road, while stressing the importance of libraries in poorer areas as well as wealthier areas like Swiss Cottage.

“When you have money, you don’t realise the importance of places where you don’t have to buy anything,” she said.

“Apart from churches and mosques, there is nowhere else to go.”

The New York University professor, who has written four novels and a collection of essays, noted the differences between American and English life.

Most Read

“There is a base level of humour in England,” she said. “Everyone is funny. As soon as I get off the plane, there will be someone making me laugh. In America, they are much more cautious.”

On the media hysteria over the birth of the royal baby, she added: “I’ve missed all the royal baby news since I’ve been away.

“On The One Show, a strange show, created since I’ve been away, they’re all very excited about it though. And good for them.”

Speaking about her school days at Hampstead School, Ms Smith remembered her “marvellous” English teacher and the “great” English department, which had an open door policy so the students could talk to teachers at any time.

The evening was hosted by Camden cabinet member for communities and culture, Cllr Tulip Siddiq, who expressed her concerns about decreasing footfall in Camden’s libraries to the Ham&High before the talk began.

She said: “It’s really important to have these big events because it gets people through the threshold and then they are more likely to come back.

“I’ve loved coming here since I was 15-years-old, so to come back and host an event like this is very weird.

“It’s great to have Zadie here because she is one of our own.”

The night was organised by publishers Penguin in partnership with The Reading Agency, who have launched a capital-wide reading group based around the book.

They have supplied libraries across London with copies, audio tapes and posters to encourage more people to read.