Two authors — one from London, one from America — discourse separately this week on what it means to be poor and black in a world that glorifies rich and white. Zadie Smith’s first novel, White Teeth, became an international bestseller when she was just 23 years old. Now, at the ripe old age of 30, she reads at UCLA from her latest, On Beauty, which takes up the lives of two rival academics, retooling the structure of E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End for the 21st century. Like White Teeth, On Beauty is as much about the forces that operate within families and between sexes as it is about struggles that take place in the arenas of culture and race.

Smith is perhaps the spiritual heir to Edward P. Jones, also out about town in the next few days, who took home the PEN/Hemingway award for his very first book, Lost in the City, and the Pulitzer (in 2004) for The Known World, his second. “There are those who write because they believe they have something so marvelous that it will make them famous and wealthy,” Jones said once in an interview, “a lauded commodity who will be invited to a lifetime of cocktail parties. But there are those . . . who write because of some bizarre and ancient compulsion.” He and Smith, prodigious talents both, must surely be among the latter.

—Gendy Alimurung

Zadie Smith appears in conversation with Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin; Royce Hall, UCLA; Fri., Sept. 15, 8 p.m. (310) 825-2101.

Edward P. Jones appears in conversation with novelist Susan Straight in the ALOUD at Central Library series; Zipper Concert Hall, Colburn School of Music, 200 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn; Thurs., Sept. 21, 7 p.m. (213) 228-7025.

LA Weekly