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Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Friday, 21 May 2010 12:39 UK

Zadie Smith: 'Multi-culturalism a fact of life'


English novelist Zadie Smith's latest offering is a wide-ranging collection of her essays examining a range of literary and political subjects. It it intriguingly titled Changing My Mind, perhaps not the most obvious choice for such a famously self-assured author.

"I wanted a title which expressed that there might be something positive about movement, ambivalence and change rather than decided views," she tells Today presenter Justin Webb.

"I wrote at the end of one of my essays that I hoped that Mr Obama would create an ambivalent feeling in the country, but I wasn't sure if that was the case."

The US, she asserts, "seems more divided and more obsessively ideological that it ever has".

Obama "has transcended representing that particular community - he won't be considered a bad black president, he'll just be considered a bad president."

Ms Smith frequently visits the US, where she will be teaching this year: "I love New York, I love Boston, maybe it's something about the literary community there."

In her acclaimed first novel, White Teeth (2000), Ms Smith tackled immigration in the UK and drew on her own mixed-heritage background and upbringing.

"The idea of multi-culturalism as an idea or an ideology is something I never understood. We don't walk around our neighbourhood thinking how is this experiment going - this is not how people live. It's just a fact.

"Once people are able to move freely in the world by plane or by boat it is an inevitability," she says. "So instead of arguing about it as an ideological concept you might as well deal with the reality."

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