“Joy,” Zadie Smith

The first unit of my 300-level CNF class is on Meditations & Epistolaries, and the former isn’t always what I read for sport. I tend to lean toward the lyric, the memoir, the experimental. And if teaching CNF has taught me anything, it’s that all of these labels are part of an enormous Venn diagram, so of course there’s overlap. So while Zadie Smith’s “Joy” does, indeed, brush against memoir, I feel comfortable placing it in with the meditative readings.

This piece made BAE in 2014, and rightly so. I’m entirely on board with any essay that’s interested in A Tribe Called Quest, let alone one that includes the clause “blessed Q-Tip!” But of course that’s not it…

What’s so great about this essay is Smith’s stance; it would be easy to assume that this essay is about how terrific joy is. Who doesn’t love joy? But Smith, in her opening paragraph, writes, “And if you asked me if I wanted more joyful experiences in my life, I wouldn’t be at all sure I did, exactly because it proves such a difficult emotion to manage.”

This piece goes to such surprising places it serves as a terrific model for students to seek out the surprises in their own work.


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