Zadie Smith: "I'm praying for revolutionary change in America"

The award-winning White Teeth novelist tells Rihanna about writing truthfully, resisting short-cuts and her dreams for 2020.

by i-D Staff
20 January 2020, 6:00am

This story originally appeared in i-D's 'Rihannazine' Special Edition, no. 01, 2020. Order your copy here. For this one-off project, Rihanna put a series of questions to the women shaping culture today, and invited them to share their visions for 2020.

Can you introduce yourself?
I’m a writer. Anything that involves words on a page is my area – except poetry and song lyrics, neither of which I’m any good at. I try my best to write truthfully about how it feels to be alive, both for myself, and – I hope – for other people. And that’s about it. One task but it seems to be taking a lifetime.

What do you think your biggest personal or professional success has been so far?
Not allowing myself to be too distracted from the things that are meaningful to me: reading, writing and the people I love. Writing is slow and hard and there’s often a temptation to do almost anything else. Same with all human relationships. Short-cuts are tempting! But I’ve found a lot of joy taking the long road.

What do you think your biggest failure has been?
All my novels are failures in their own ways. That’s how novels work. Perfect novels are rarer than rubies. But you keep writing them in the hope you’ll get somewhere near one at some point.

If you could ask Rihanna one question what would it be?
I know you’re a Bajan woman with Afro-Guyanese and Irish roots. Have you traced your people back through African and European history, and if so what did you find, and what it did it mean to you?

What are you taking with you in 2020 and what are you leaving behind?
I’m taking with me a prayer for revolutionary change in America. I’m leaving my youth.


Photography Mario Sorrenti
Styling Alastair McKimm

Hair Duffy at Streeters.
Make-up Kanako Takase at Streeters.
Nail technician Alicia Torello at The Wall Group using Chanel.
Set design Jack Flanagan at The Wall Group.
Colourist Lena Ott for Suite Caroline.
Lighting technician Lars Beaulieu.
Photography assistance Kotaro Kawashima, Javier Villegas and Jared Zagha.
Digital technician Johnny Vicari.
Styling assistance Madison Matusich and Milton Dixon.
Hair assistance Lukas Tralmer, Juli Akaneya and Allie J.
Make-up assistance Kuma and Tomoyo Shionome.
Set design assistance Colin Walker and Joe Arai.
Production Katie Fash.
Production coordinator Layla Némejanski.
Production assistance Fujio Emura.
Casting director Samuel Ellis Scheinman for DMCASTING.
Casting assistance Cicek Brown for DMCASTING.

Lede image Zadie wears dress Rachel Comey. Headscarf Norma Kamali. Earring model’s own.

Zadie Smith