Today Weekdays 6-9am and Saturdays 7-9am

  • News Feeds
Page last updated at 10:21 GMT, Monday, 29 December 2008
Guest editor: Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith
Every year the Today programme invites people in the public eye, from artists and musicians to business men and royalty, to guest edit the programme in the week after Christmas.

The first programme was edited by author Zadie Smith.

She said that compared to writing, she found the responsibility of the editors job incredibly stressful, and felt that there were a lot of people to "not mess up for", but enjoyed the process nonetheless.

For her programme, Zadie Smith travelled to Liberia in the hope of steering the listener away from the "imagined state of Africa" and towards the reality of life in one of Africa's failed-states.

Partly motivated by a "guilt complex" that her bestsellers were blocking literary exploration, she asked the programme to try to figure out what the avant-garde stands for in the 21st Century. Stewart Home, a stalwart of underground writing and publishing, Tom McCarthy, author of bestselling novel Remainder, and Hari Kunzru, a commercial fiction writer who dabbles in the underground, were happy to debate the avant-garde, if only to agree that it was an out-dated term.

For Zadie Smith, British comedy has always been connected with the class divide - "the thing the British are most able to laugh at and the least able to deal with." She sent class-conscious comedian Russell Kane to consider the heritage of the class struggle in comedy, from Steptoe and Son to David Brent.

She was interested in recent developments in neuroscience that give an insight into why human beings appreciate art. Professor VS Ramachandran, director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, explained the latest developments in neuroaesthetics.

She also wanted the programme to look into a project that hopes to integrate philosophy, psychoanalysis, literature and art into everyday life. Philosopher Alain de Botton, a lecturer at the school, gives a tour of the cultural project.

One of the School of Life's activities is to host sermons which aim to persuade people to live their lives in different ways. One of the sermons that Zadie Smith thought would be particularly interesting to Today listeners was by writer Geoff Dyer on the subject of punctuality.

American writer David Foster Wallace committed suicide in September this year. He was a friend of Zadie Smith's, and she asked novelist Jonathan Franzen and short story writer George Saunders to remember the man widely seen as one of America's greatest contemporary literary talents.


Author Zadie Smith is one of the leading young British authors of the 21st Century.

Born in Brent on 27 October 1975 to a Jamaican mother and English father, she went to school in the London borough of Hampstead before studying English Literature at King's College, Cambridge.

She completed her first novel, White Teeth, while still at university. The novel inspired a publishing bidding war before it was even finished.

White Teeth went on to be an international bestseller, winning the Whitbread Award in 2000 and launching her career as a star of British literature.

Despite suffering writers block under pressure to follow up on the success of White Teeth, she has gone on to write The Autograph Man in 2002 and On Beauty in 2005, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the 2006 Orange Prize for fiction.

Martin Rees Martin Rees
Cosmologist, Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society

David Hockney David Hockney
One of the most influential British artists of the 21st century

Tony Adams Tony Adams
Football manager and former Arsenal and England defender

PD James PD James
Best-selling crime writer and Conservative peer

Robert Wyatt Robert Wyatt
Solo musician and Soft Machine founder member

Baroness Williams Shirley Williams
Senior Liberal Democrat politician

David Hockney Audio slideshow
The world through Hockney's eyes

William Petersen, Paul Guilfoyle, and Marg Helgenberger, investigate a bomb explosion in a scene from the first season of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." Crime friction
Sir Ian Blair's fears over the power of crime drama

The South Oxhey Community Choir perform at St Albanís Cathedral Britain's choirs
Listen to the amateur choirs singing in the UK

Mark Rylance as 'Rooster' Byron in Jerusalem Just the ticket
Are we in the midst of a golden age of British theatre?


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific