Zadie Smith on E. M. Forster:
Forster's novels are full of people who'd think twice before borrowing a Forster novel from the library. Well—they'd want to know—is it worth the bother or not?
On George Eliot:
In order to be attentive to Fred, Eliot had to take the long way round. It was a philosopher, Spinoza, who first convinced her of the importance of experience. It was theory that brought her to practice. These days, writer of ideas has become a term of abuse: we think "Ideas" are the opposite of something we call "Life." It wasn't that way with Eliot. In fact, her ability to animate ideas is so acute she is able to fool the great Henry James into believing Fred Vincy a commonplace young man who has wandered into Middlemarch with no purpose, when really nothing could be further from the truth.
On Zora Neale Hurston:
She grew up a fully human being, unaware that she was meant to consider herself a minority, an other, an exotic or something depleted in rights, talents, desires, and expectations. As an adult, away from Eatonville, she found the world was determined to do its best to remind her of her supposed inferiority, but Hurston was already made, and the metaphysical confidence she claimed for her life ("I am not tragically colored") is present, with equal, refreshing force, in her fiction. She liked to yell "Culllaaaah Struck!" when she entered a fancy party—almost everybody was. But Hurston herself was not. "Blackness," as she understood it and wrote about it, is as natural and inevitable and complete to her as, say, "Frenchness" is to Flaubert. It is also as complicated, as full of blessings and curses. One can be no more removed from it than from one's arm, but it is no more the total measure of one's being than an arm is.
I love how she speaks of these writers like close, treasured, flawed, wonderful friends. Zadie Smith is one of those rare people who, the more you read her, and the more you read about her, the more you want to know.
+ Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays