It Lit Debutante: Zadie Smith
WHY HER? She’s more precocious than young Martin Amis, more photogenic than Sebastian Junger, and simply a damn fine writer. When she started composing her widely acclaimed — nay, adored — debut novel, White Teeth, she thought it ”was just about two guys and their friendship over a long period of time.” It exploded into a seriocomic epic set in her native London and profoundly concerned with roots — cultural, familial, and dental. ”When I got halfway through,” she says, ”images were starting to come together and reoccurring jokes, and you think: This does look like a novel, it smells like a novel, it seems to be the same shape. That’s very exciting.”
MOST CREATIVE THING SHE’S EVER DONE ”A poem that I wrote. I never write poems, ever, but I wrote one out of those fridge-magnet letters during one of my mother’s parties. Everyone was fairly drunk, and I don’t know why I was writing with letters on the fridge, but I must have been fairly drunk as well. But this poem is actually kinda good. I often show it to people and pretend it’s by somebody else — by a good poet — and they buy it.”
BIGGEST INFLUENCES E.M. Forster, John Updike, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo… ”Nabokov is the bee’s knees.”
WHO’D PLAY HER IN THE BIOPIC ”How about Angela Bassett? She’d get all that muscle definition I don’t have. That’d be fantastic. Doesn’t look a thing like me, but she’d rule.”
NEXT While the BBC turns White Teeth into a miniseries, Smith is working on her follow-up, The Autograph Man, about a London autograph dealer ”involved in some interesting religious sects…. The structure of it is very much based on [?Nabokov’s?] Pnin.”
It Imagineer: Mary GrandPré
WHY HER? Because her spot drawings in the pages of Harry Potter’s U.S. editions (the British editions are not illustrated) are as tender, charming, and imaginative as author J.K. Rowling’s wonderful words.
WORK RITUAL ”I get up slowly, have a couple of strong cups of coffee, close my eyes, listen to the birds, pet my dogs, put on some Sarah Vaughan, and ease into the day.”
WORST CAREER MOMENT ”I was starting out as a courtroom artist, and I had my little box of pastels and drawing pads, and I dropped the box and made a mess — the pastels were rolling all over the floor — and the judge asked me to leave. I realized I wasn’t going to be a courtroom artist.”
DREAM COLLABORATOR Tim Burton. ”Either on a book or a movie. He breaks boundaries.”
KNEW SHE’D MADE IT WHEN ”I love Harry Potter — [?Rowling?] just packs each chapter full of rich imagery so that they’re a joy to work on — but still… I’ll have made it when I can just create my own paintings and people will want them.”
BEST SOUVENIR ”Three personally autographed books from J.K. Rowling, where she wrote some very nice things. I cherish those.”
NEXT With the new Potter out July 8, she plans to work on her own children’s books.
Crafting It: How’d They Do That? Harry Potter
Mary GrandPré’s luminous illustrations bring Harry Potter’s world to kid-pleasing life. GrandPré credits imaginative author J.K. Rowling’s vivid storytelling as her primary inspiration; ”It’s like being a kid in a candy store [for an artist],” she says.
It Jacket Man: Michael Ian Kaye
WHY HIM? He’s the book industry’s hottest designer since Chip Kidd. Kaye’s covers often get reviewed with the books. Among his biggest hits: David Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice, on which a Santa is pictured at a urinal, and the Tony Earley novel Jim the Boy. Now branching out into branding as an associate creative director of Ogilvy & Mather’s brand integration group.
WORK RITUAL ”Read the book the night before. Smoke cigarettes [Camel Lights] — it’s the prop I use to think with. Listen to Belle and Sebastian over and over.”
UNLIKELY SOURCE OF INSPIRATION Old issues of Popular Mechanics.
WORST CAREER MOMENT ”Working on huge commercial thrillers with writers who have huge commercial egos.”
WOULDN’T BE HERE WITHOUT Psychedelic-drug experimentation.
NEXT Designing a photo book for bag lady Kate Spade on the contents of people’s purses.
It Wit: Paul Beatty
WHY HIM? The poet’s second novel, Tuff, is a shrewdly turned comic coming-of-age tale about Winston ”Tuffy” Foshay, an obese, cinephilic street punk from East Harlem who — abetted by a Marxist godmother and an African-American rabbi — turns his back on thuggery to run for city council.
WORK RITUAL ”Sometimes it’s a paragraph a day, sometimes it’s five pages a day. I just make sure that I get to it at some point.”
WHO’D STAR IN THE BIOPIC ”Probably Ryan Phillippe,” who bought the film rights to Beatty’s first novel, The White Boy Shuffle.
NEXT Currently considering his first film project.
It Noisemaker: Myla Goldberg
WHY HER? Bee Season, her debut novel, was much buzzed-about, thanks to the elegance with which Goldberg tells the story of 11-year-old Eliza, an unlikely spelling-bee whiz.
WORST CAREER MOMENT Working as a production assistant on Stephen King’s Thinner. ”Everything about it was terrible. Power was measured by how much you could act like a 6-year-old.”
HER SPELLING-BEE RECORD ”I was in all of one spelling bee — in fourth grade — I misspelled tomorrow, and that was the end of it.”
NEXT A novel set during the 1918 influenza epidemic.
It Blue Pencil: Geoffrey Kloske
WHY HIM? The Simon & Schuster editor has a staggering ear for edgy humor and heartbreaking voices, signing up Dave Eggers — on just an idea and ”not a lot of paper” — and David Sedaris when the Naked essayist was starting out on National Public Radio.
UNLIKELY SOURCE OF INSPIRATION ”Canada. You have to admit, it’s very unlikely.”
DREAM PROJECT Harry Potter: The Starbucks Years.
WHO’D PLAY HIM IN THE BIOPIC ”Jack Black — the crazier sidekick in High Fidelity.”
NEXT Editing (EW contributor) Jim Mullen’s memoir, It Takes a Village Idiot.
It Experimentalist: Mark Z. Danielewski
WHY HIM? His début novel, House of Leaves, is a grad student’s dream and a typesetter’s nightmare — a literary horror story wrapped up in meta-texts and scattered radically across 700 pages.
WORK RITUAL ”I would work on it in libraries, coffee shops, in my little garret…. You have to realize that you can write at any time, any place. I would just make sure that I was always writing and that ultimately the environment wasn’t going to play that big a part.”
BIGGEST INSPIRATION Film theory. ”I spent a good deal of time writing essays based on how the language of cinema — in terms of the way shots are paced, the way certain high angles, low angles, zooms, etc., create an emotional response in the viewer — could be applied textually. That gave me a basis from which to examine the construct of the whole thing.”
NEXT Danielewski’s sister, the singer Poe, issues the concept album Haunted: Explorations 1-16. ”She’s my only reader, so she’s been reading this book for years, as I’ve been listening to her tracks for years…. It’s not a soundtrack for the book. It’s a parallax view of the same history.”
It Cat’s Meow: Matthew Klam
WHY HIM? An O. Henry prize winner, he’s garnering raves for his darkly humorous debut collection, Sam the Cat and Other Stories. Its title story, about an obnoxious ladies’ man suddenly stricken with sexual confusion, has been optioned by Cameron Crowe.
WORK RITUAL ”Alarm rings. Get in car. Harrowing, 15-minute, reckless driving half-asleep to shrink. Then psychoanalytical fart session. Then go sit in office for four to seven hours playing with email.”
JEANS OR KHAKIS? ”Denim gauchos.”
FAVE QUOTE From his mom: ”Fish sticks and spaghetti for din-din on Wednesday.”
WORST CAREER MOMENT ”Hey, Mr. Buckley” (said to George Plimpton).
DREAM PROJECT ”Harry Potter by Matthew Klam.”
WHOSE CAREER HE’D MOST LIKE TO HAVE ”Jim Morrison, but not dead.”
NEXT A first novel, Grizzly Eats Fatty Park Ranger.
It Uptown Guy: Ernesto Quinonez
WHY HIM? A fourth-grade schoolteacher and Spanish Harlem native, Quinonez has won critical acclaim for his breakout book Bodega Dreams, a noirish novel that weaves a Gatsbyesque tale from a Latino point of view and brings to life the street corners and schoolyards of New York’s El Barrio.
WORK RITUAL ”I write at night. I sit there and kick and catch and pull until something happens. Sometimes nothing happens, but I put in my two hours every night.”
MOST CREATIVE THING HE’S EVER DONE ”I stole a box of Liquid-Plumr from a truck.”
BIGGEST INFLUENCE The Nuyorican Poets Anthology of 1975. ”It was the first time that I saw Spanglish in the printed form. It was incredible to me.”
FAVE QUOTE Samuel Beckett: ”Fail. Fail again. Fail better.”
NEXT ”A novel about AIDS and Santeria, something that hasn’t been written about much from the Latino perspective.”
The It Spot It Performance: Sarah Jones
In her current New York show, Surface Transit, Jones, 26, a slam-poet champ, impersonates eight eclectic characters (from Jewish grandmothers to recovering hip-hopheads) in an emotionally charged tour de force that’s winning her fans like Robin Williams, Whiteboys’ Danny Hoch, and the judges at this year’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, who presented her with the prize for best one-person show.