Why Zadie Smith used dance to tell her new story Swing Time

The author opens up about her new book and why she used the backdrop of dance to tell this story.
Zadie Smith's latest novel Swing Time is out now. (Getty Images)

"I wanted to write something about early life," says Zadie Smith of her new novel Swing Time. The book ends when the main character is about thirty-three, so the story serves as a "pretend buildings room of an imaginary person," says Smith.

Swing Time follows the friendship between an unnamed narrator and her friend Tracey. The girls first meet during a childhood dance class, where the narrator becomes entranced by Tracey's physical appearance and talent for dance. The story follows the narrator as she becomes emotionally attracted to sources of positivity, but she eventually struggles with envy. Swing Time explores themes of race, memory, and belonging through the friendship of these two biracial girls who dream of becoming dancers.

Smith admits that it is hard for her to place herself in her younger years. "I remember things like getting up at eleven in the morning, often," says Smith of being twenty-one. She jokes about working only a few hours a day, "how I got anything done given the amount I did sleep." But now, it's such a different reality. She says having less time has been useful to her as a writer, "it's a kind of interesting restriction. You have to work around it and you have to be a lot more focused."

On the role of dance in Swing Time, Smith says, "dance is the embodiment of embodiment." She notes that all other art forms will embody something, but in dance "it's an actualization of the metaphor." Smith explains that through the use of the body, in dance "you see visually, what in other art forms, we have to talk about metaphorically."


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