Zadie Smith: Brent libraries gave me a gateway to a better life

The Kilburn raised author flew to London to speak to residents battling to save Kensal Rise library

AWARD-winning author Zadie Smith has spoken movingly about the crucial role Willesden Green library played in offering her a ‘gateway’ out of poverty.

Ms Smith, who grew up in Kilburn, spoke to a packed meeting of residents battling to save Kensal Rise library in Bathurst Gardens, Kensal Rise.

The library is one of six reading rooms cash-strapped Brent Council plans to close in a bid to slash �1million from its annual budget.

Ms Smith said: “My own family placed a very high value on education and bookishness. We relied on public services. Not as frippery, not as an excuse for personal stagnation, but as a gateway to other opportunities.”


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After shooting to fame in 2000 with the publication of her book White Teeth, which she finished writing while in her final year at Cambridge University, Zadie became one of the most popular young novelists in England.

But she had far humbler beginnings.

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Speaking about growing up in a small flat where her interest in literature stemmed from regular trips to Willesden Green library, in High Road, Willesden, she said: “I learnt what a monumental space a library can be.

“I spent my adult life in libraries that make local libraries look small indeed – to some people, small enough to get rid of without much regret.

“But I never would have seen a single university carrel if I had not grown up living 100 yards from the library in Willesden Green.

“Local libraries are gateways not only into other libraries, but into other lives.”

Attacking the Conservative-led Government for cutting public spending, she said: “I can see that if you went to Eton or Harrow like so many of the present cabinet, you might not understand the point of such lowly gateways.

“It is very difficult to explain to people with money what it means not to have money.”

And in a swipe at politicians, local and national, implementing library cuts, which provoked applause from the crowd, she added: “Perhaps it is because they know what the history books will make of them that our politicians are so cavalier with our libraries. From their point of view the fewer history books we can find these days the better.”

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