In our second instalment of Authors who found love within the literary field, we will be looking at the love and marriage of Zadie Smith and Nick Laird.
Despite the competitiveness and jealousy that may arise when two writers fall in love, literary-minded people tend to be drawn to each other. Zadie Smith first met Nick Laird when she submitted a short story to a collection he was editing. They were both undergraduates at the University of Cambridge. Her story, Laird told The Telegraph in an interview in July 2005, “was just head-and-shoulders above anything else.” Smith’s career took off after that. Her first novel, White Teeth, was an international best-seller and won critical acclaim. Later, Laird said that going to literary parties with Smith made him feel “two feet high.” Even so, the two writers support each other — showing each other their unpublished work and exchanging advice.
Smith has also publicly described their relationship. In an essay published in the New York Review of Books, she explains that she and Laird work in the same library in New York — on different floors. At the end of the day, they tell each other about the people they have seen out and about, and re-enact the conversations they have overheard.
Nick Laird was born in Co.Tyrone, Northern Ireland and educated at Cookstown High School and Cambridge University. He is an adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York, his honours include the Betty Trask Prize, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, a Somerset Maugham Award and the Ireland Chair of Poetry Prize. Since his marriage to Zadie Smith in 2004, a certain sense of literary celebrity has attached to him. Smith dedicated her third novel entitled On Beauty to “my dear Laird.” The couple lived in Rome from November 2006 to 2007 and now live in New York City and Queen’s Park, London. They have two children, Katherine (Kit) and Harvey (Hal).
Laird has published two novels, Utterly Monkey and Glover’s Mistake, and three collections of poetry, To A Fault, On Purpose and Go Giants.
Smith’s début novel White Teeth was introduced to the publishing world in 1997 before it was completed. On the basis of a partial manuscript, an auction for the rights was begun, which was won by Hamish Hamilton. Smith completed White Teeth during her final year at the University of Cambridge. Published in 2000, the novel immediately became a best-seller and received much acclaim. It was praised internationally and won a number of awards, among them the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Betty Trask Award.
Smith served as writer-in-residence at the ICA in London and subsequently published, as editor, an anthology of sex writing, Piece of Flesh, as the culmination of this role. Her second novel, The Autograph Man, was published in 2002 and was a commercial success, although it was not as well received by critics as White Teeth.
In 2005, Smith published her third novel, On Beauty, set largely in and around Greater Boston. It attracted more acclaim than The Autograph Man: it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Smith’s novel NW was published in 2012. It is set in the Kilburn area of north-west London, the title being a reference to the local postcode, NW6. NW was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Swing Time, Smith’s fifth novel was published in November 2016. It drew inspiration from Smith’s childhood love of tap dancing. It was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2017 and her first collection of short stories, Grand Union, was published in 2019.
Unlike our previous literary couples, Zadie Smith and Nick Laird seem to have a happy and healthy relationship without the rivalry, jealousy and resentment.