At their New Yorker Festival reading Friday, writers Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon demonstrated that writing across gender and class is not as hard as it seems.
I've mentioned how I feel about Zadie Smith, and Chabon's always a charming and funny reader (I once heard him respond to the question, "What parts of Spiderman did you write?" by saying, "All the parts you liked"). So I was excited to hear them read together even thought the rationale behind the pairing wasn't completely clear — especially since, as Smith pointed out, she was reading nonfiction on what was supposed to be the Festival's fiction night. Her piece (from Changing My Mind) described her father's experiences during the D-Day invasion, but it was actually way less graphic than Chabon's — a scene from an unpublished work depicting a home birth gone awry. In the scene, a mom gives birth to a healthy baby but then begins hemorrhaging copiously, all while her daughter looks on. A male audience member actually had to get up and leave when things got really bloody. Afterwards, as the women in the audience slowly unclenched our vaginas, the Q&A session turned — unsurprisingly — to the difficulties of portraying another gender.